Alix Olson: Word Warrior

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, 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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Olson: Word Warrior

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