Queer Writer Showcase: Alix Olson

Alix Olson is a poet who focuses on feminist social critique, gender politics, LGBT rights, and social equality. Her work is just plain brilliant. I have not heard one single poem of hers that I do not enjoy. Here’s what her website says about her:

“Alix Olson is an internationally touring folk poet and progressive queer artist-activist. One part peace vigil, one part protest rally, and one part joyful raucous concert, Alix ignites audiences everywhere she performs. Olson’s innumerable stage, broadcast, radio and print appearances include twice headlining HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” (Russell Simmons), and an inclusion in Utne Magazine’s InRadio compilation. Utne’s website calls Olson “…the spoken word diva everyone’s talking about.”

Since winning 1998’s National Poetry Slam with her New York City team and 1999’s OutWrite LGBT Slam, Alix has co-authored Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Press), published two books of poetry, produced two spoken word CD’s and an award-winning documentary, and has had her work placed in dozens of anthologies and compilations. ” – alixolson.com

See what I mean? Brilliant. Her work is heavily influenced by culture’s presumptions of women, homosexuals, and anything else society may label as an “other”. It fights back, with brutal wit and sharp wordplay.

The first poem I’ll show you is Gender Game. In this poem Alix uses very subtle rhyme while discusses the oppression of women by culture and the boxes it puts them in. One of my favorite lines in this one is “I must confess, my straight jacket’s a dress”. She references the crimes toward the LGBT community as an example of what happens when one does rebel against the gender roles assigned to them. The last stanza really sticks with you:
  Yes, we are Deconstruction Workers.
          We are exposing unfounded bedrocks
          That bed us to one sex, that wed us to one gender.
          We are overturning those stones,
          We are throwing them back.
          We are making revolution
          A gender evolution.
          We are invoking strategy, we are revoking shame.
          And we are calling it. We are calling it
          Refusal to be Named.

The second poem I want to share with you from Alix is called Eves Mouth. Eve’s Mouth is another poem about feminism, but this one takes another take on the issue. In this she re-imagines the female characters from fairytale stories and other legends. She imagines them as whole human beings revealing something more about their personalities. Cinderella is gay, Red Ridding Hood is bulimic, and Rupunzel, after waiting forever for her prince Charming, decides to shave her head and make herself a rope to escape by herself. It’s a fun poem and it provides a good commentary on how the world perceives women. One of the best lines in this poem is one that’s right at the beginning, as a retort made by Eve when someone suggests she was made from Adam’s rib, and is repeated throughout the poem:
She screams at the top of her lungs:
        “I’m whole! I’m body, I’m heart, I’m mind, I’m soul.”

The last poem I want to show you is America’s On Sale. This is Alix’s opinion about where our country is going. It’s done in the style of a voice you would hear over the loudspeaker at a Walmart. It’s very insightful and accurate to how this world views us, and also is full of her patented social commentary on gender. Here’s a little snippit of the kind of political wit you’ll hear in this poem:
We’ve unstocked the welfare pantry
       to restock the wall street gentry
       it’s economically elementary
       because values don’t pay,
       yes, American dreams are on permanent layaway!
      (there was limited availability anyway)
I know, brutal, right? I love it.

Alix is pretty badass. I defiantly want to meet her someday. Her wordplay alone is stunning, but then you get into her scathing social commentary you  begin to understand why I love this woman so much. So, have fun listening and as always, try and live with intellectual and emotional honesty, and enjoy the day. It’s nice as hell outside (seriously, I hear Hell is wonderful this time of year).

-JM Romig

Oh, and in case you guys haven’t had enough Alix Olson, here’s my very favorite poem by her: It’s called Daughter and this is the audio track from the poetry podcast Indiefeed.

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