The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
I originally discovered Olivia Gatwood’s slam poetry performances on the Youtube channel of Button Poetry. I was immediately transfixed by the rawness of her poetry and the way she could captivate an audience when she performed. Gatwood doesn’t hold back, tackling subjects such as sexual assault, her own sex and sexuality, and the people in her life whom she has loved, with grace and an effortless demeanor.
Life of the Party was released in 2019 as Gatwood’s second collection of poetry, following her first release New American Best Friend. I’ll admit, poetry has never been my favorite genre to read; however, as soon as I picked up Life of the Party, I couldn’t put it down. Largely, this collection is devoted to the female experience, focusing specifically upon the violence against women and the True Crime genre, which largely centers around women — specifically white women as their stories often get the most coverage, far more than women of color — who are the victims of violence.
Gatwood delves into her own experiences of girlhood, as well as the fear of what is looming in the shadows. In her poem “First Grade, 1999” she writes about the baby mice she discovered in her school and how a custodian removed them, crushing them to death with a rock. Gatwood compares herself, her smallness, and the smallness of the other girls around her, to the mice, crushed with a rock. They were small murdered things and she understood herself to be a small thing, beautifully illustrating the fear of a man coming to crush young girls, that is instilled at such a young age.
Women and girls are taught to be afraid of what’s in the shadows, rather than the shadows being taught not to inflict fear. Women are taught to carry their keys between their fingers, park beneath streetlights, and never walk alone at night. Through each of her poems, Gatwood explores this profound sense of fear. With fear, comes obsession with knowing everything there is to know about the reality of the fear. Through this, the True Crime Genre was born. It largely focuses on the violence against women and girls. Gatwood addresses how many of the cases that get the most publicity are young and beautiful white women and girls.
“Naturally attractive, exceptionally bright,
How many ways can we say the word white?”
She explores how cases such as JonBenet Ramsey have been sensationalized. In her poem “She lit up every room she walked into” Gatwood explores the ways in which so often, murdered young women are turned into something of a star. They are written about as perfect, beautiful, full of promise, the very last person to have deserved such a thing, and their murder is glamorized and sensationalized.
Generally, much of the true crime genre focuses on crimes committed by men against women. Gatwood chose, however, to devote several of her poems to female serial killer Aileeen Wuornos. Gatwood does not glamorize the crimes Wuornos committed; however, she explores a bit of her humanity and how she claims that she only killed men in self-defense. In her poem “Aileen Wuornos Takes A Lover Home” Gatwood explores the relationship between Wuornos and her lover, Tyria, just before she was caught. Gatwood writes about how the only thing Wuornos ever wanted to talk about was love, and never the men that she killed.
Gatwood also focuses on her own girlhood, with poems such as “Mango Season” and how so often young boys terrorize young girls and it is chalked up to mere child's play. The truth, however, is that these boys will grow up and become the men in the shadows that Gatwood writes about.
With each of Gatwoods poems that I read, I thought of my own experience as a woman, particularly growing up in a city. I thought of the times I have called a friend while walking to my car at night. I thought of the time when a man followed me through my parents neighborhood when I was seventeen, all the way to my house, to ask whether or not I was single. I think of the time that a man told me his favorite hobby was going on walks at night. He was shocked when I told him this was an activity I could never share in. Gatwood's writing is a must read for young women. It speaks to the incredibly universal experience of girlhood.
Gatwood’s work can be found on a variety of platforms, such as her Instagram where much of her work is promoted, her website, as well as her podcast Say More with fellow poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva. Gatwood will be releasing her first novel Whoever You Are, Honey in early 2022.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.