In-Depth Look: Olivia Gatwood – “When I Say We Are All Teen Girls”
Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
“When I say that we are all teen girls, what I mean is that when my grandmother called to ask why I didn’t respond to her letter, all I heard was, ‘Why didn’t you text me back? Why don’t you love me?’”
Write-up by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre
From its title, to it structure, even down to the line-by-line word choices: this poem knows what it is. That might seem like a weird thing to say about a poem, but Gatwood is delivering a masterclass in conceptual discipline and focus here; this poem makes a specific statement, and every line– every word– contributes to that work.
I always find myself appreciating that kind of “focus on focus” because for me (and I also know that this is true for a ton of beginning writers), that has been a challenge to develop. I remember just splashing a bunch of thoughts, feelings, and images on the page, and thinking that the reader/listener would do the work of making them make sense. After all, the romantic stereotype of what poetry is doesn’t always have room for words like “discipline,” “structure,” or “thesis.” To be fair, you can absolutely write poems without any of those things. But they are powerful tools, and when wielded as intentionally as Gatwood wields them here, they can propel a piece from an interesting thought to an unforgettable experience.
This poem immediately reminded me of pieces like this, and this, about how teen girls are used as barometers by adult male music critics to decide what is and isn’t okay to enjoy. US culture is quick to write off the things that teen girls like, because, frankly, it’s already so quick to write off women, and young people, and especially young women, as human beings. Gatwood’s poem takes that idea further, though, focusing not just on pop culture, but on the relationship between teen girls and reality itself. This recontextualization of so many things– the wrench, the ocean, Donald Trump, Pluto– challenges the audience to think more critically, while simultaneously serving as a validating battle cry to *actual* teen girls, who appear in the poem “huddled on the subway after school, limbs draped over each other’s shoulders, bones knocking an awkward windchime.”
While you’re here on our site, make sure to check out our books and merchandise in the Button Store, including Guante’s own book, as well as titles by Danez Smith, Neil Hilborn, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, and our newest release from Rudy Francisco!