Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we are joined by poet and editor Shannon Wolf to discuss the work of Olivia Gatwood, the particular power of seeing poetry performed live, and writing as a therapeutic act. As always, thank you for tuning in!
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: We all have an origin story for when we discovered a favorite poet. How did you discover Olivia Gatwood?
Shannon Wolf: Just like many of her fans, I found Gatwood through Youtube performances of her poems. She has a huge following in the slam poetry scene, and I found both her performance style and the actual content of her poems really compelling. She’s best known for earlier poems – like “Alternate Universe in Which I Am Unfazed by the Men Who Do Not Love Me” – and I think it’s because these poems (especially for women) are accessible in their language and ideas, which is not to say they aren’t well written. She has a wonderful eye for making magic from the minutiae. So many of her poems are about the female experience, the female body, and all of its burdens and blessings. Her work is somehow both refreshing and dark, and as a poet myself, that seems like one unattainable feat to accomplish.
AH: During our correspondence, you mentioned that you’ve actually seen Gatwood perform her work live. How was the experience? Did the experience of hearing and seeing it performed change anything for you?
SW: It was really fantastic. I think it’s important to note how the venue was packed with so many people identifying as women and it felt like this safe, collaborative, familiar environment – the laughter and the emphatic noises of agreement you often hear at poetry readings seemed three times louder than usual in that room in Portland, Oregon. She performed with a musician, Mexican singer-songwriter Joaquina Mertz, setting her poems to sound, and it was a total sensory experience. Gatwood’s performances (with and without music) definitely add a layer of meaning to the written word. Her style of reading, her tone contextualizes the work – she has this great deadpan delivery that just lights each piece on fire. This particular performance was on the tour for her chapbook New American Best Friend, so I’d love to take in a reading of poems from Life of the Party, which I think drill a lot deeper into the female consciousness (and the dangers that seem to surround it).
AH: In an interview with The Adroit Journal, Gatwood said the following about Life of the Party: “I was in a constant state of feeling afraid, and instead of running from that feeling or trying to soften it, I held a magnifying glass up to it, tried to figure out where it was born, then write from the beginning.” As a writer, have you felt similar emotions and experiences when trying to write a particular piece?
SW: Absolutely! I would be surprised if there isn’t a writer who doesn’t use their work as some kind of therapy, honestly. I think whether it’s fear, or a specific trauma, or even just making sense of a memory, stepping toward it with your writing can produce something really striking. I often say that Gatwood’s poems are so personal – many in her chapbook refer to specific details from her own reality – but in Life of the Party, Gatwood appears to distance herself much more. Somehow though, this serves to bring the reader in even closer. In “If A Girl Screams In the Middle of the Night”, the singular scream of a girl becomes universal. In inspecting her own fear, she taps into our collective fear. I try to do this in my own work when I inspect generational trauma, and abusive relationships. Perhaps this hard stare into the sun eventually softens the fear anyway.
AH: Have any exciting news you want to share (it can be anything! Life, writing, new revelations)?
SW: I do. I just recently signed a contract for my first full-length poetry collection. Green Card Girl, which will be forthcoming from Fernwood Press in September 2022. It’s about my immigration journey from England to the US, the genesis of my chosen family, and the slow rot of toxic relationships. You can follow me on Twitter @helloshanwolf or check my website helloshanwolf.com for updates on the book! I also have poems coming out with Sledgehammer Lit and HAD, and I’ve just started a new teaching job here in my new hometown, Denver, CO. There’s a lot going on right now!
Olivia Gatwood is a writer and activist. She is the author of the full-length collection Life of the Party and has performed her poetry both in the United States and internationally. Her poetry has appeared in The Winter Tangerine Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Missouri Review, among others.
Find her website here.
Watch her perform her poem “We Find Each Other in the Details” here.
Purchase her collection Life of the Party at Penguin Random House.
Shannon Wolf is a British writer, living in Denver, Colorado. Her debut full-length poetry collection Green Card Girl is forthcoming from Fernwood Press. She received a joint MA-MFA in Poetry at McNeese State University and also has degrees from Lancaster University and the University of Chichester. She is Co-Curator of the “Poets in Pajamas” Reading Series. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in or are forthcoming from The Forge, Great Weather for MEDIA, HAD and NoContactMag among others.
You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.
Read her poem “Ode to Tony Soprano” here at No Contact Magazine.
Learn more about Shannon on her website.
Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Barren Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press, and reads for EX/POST Magazine. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com