Alix Olson: Word Warrior

Who says fighting The Man can't rhyme?

| October 16, 2003

If you thought slam poetry had been discharged from the culture war or that its combatants had ceased their verbal assault against the status quo and are no longer a front-line threat, then listen again. As Elizabeth DiNovella writes in The Progressive, Alix Olson 'first became involved with the poetry slam scene in the late 1990s, when she moved to New York City 'with the intention to change the world.' She went to the Nuyorcian Poets' Cafe with some guitar lyrics and performed them as poems. The effect was immediate.'

Immediate, yes. And enduring.

After her Nuyorcian Poets' slam team won the National Poetry Slam in 1998, Olson hit the road with her poems, ranging in theme from solidarity to SUV's and sex to modern day slavery. In a poem she performs from her Nuyorcian days, Olson writes: 'Attention Shoppers! America's On Sale! 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).'

Olson, raised in small-town Pennsylvania by progressive parents, began writing around age 10. She tells DiNovella, 'It always seemed a natural way to translate the world around me, and I think my words grew up with my political consciousness.' Now, as an outspoken lesbian and an advocate for grassroots truth in a rich, white male world, Olson delights in being a boot in the butt of right-wing groups like Concerned Women for America, who listed her among the country's 10 most dangerous women. For the same reasons, historian Howard Zinn has called her 'an ingenious poet, a brilliant performer, a funny person, and serious thinker.'

Although Olson is on the road, performing, 300 days a year and lives out of her van, she still acts as goddess to her own production company and records material for her spoken word CD's. It is an existence she champions. 'Traveling artists are people who carry truth from one town to the next town,' she says. 'We represent alternative media to each other. . . . Part of what I get to see are the small council meetings and protests that are happening in towns that we don't hear about. It would be too dangerous if we heard about all the small rebellions.'
-- Eric Larson

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