Life of the Party

Poems

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A dazzling debut collection of raw and explosive poems about growing up in a sexist, sensationalized world, from a thrilling new feminist voice.

i’m a good girl, bad girl, dream girl, sad girl
girl next door sunbathing in the driveway
i wanna be them all at once, i wanna be
all the girls I’ve ever loved
—from “Girl”

Lauded for the power of her writing and having attracted an online fan base of millions for her extraordinary spoken-word performances, Olivia Gatwood now weaves together her own coming-of-age with an investigation into our culture’s romanticization of violence against women. At times blistering and riotous, at times soulful and exuberant, Life of the Party explores the boundary between what is real and what is imagined in a life saturated with fear. Gatwood asks, How does a girl grow into a woman in a world racked by violence? Where is the line between perpetrator and victim? In precise, searing language, she illustrates how what happens to our bodies can make us who we are.

Praise for Life of the Party


“Delicately devastating, this book will make us all ‘feel less alone in the dark.’ ”—Miel Bredouw, writer and comedian, Punch Up the Jam
 
“Gatwood writes about the women who were forgotten and the men who got off too easy with an effortlessness and empathy and anger that yanked every emotion on the spectrum out of me. Imagine, we get to live in the age of Olivia Gatwood. Goddamn.”—Jamie Loftus, writer and comedian, Boss Whom Is Girl and The Bechdel Cast

“I’ve read every poem in Life of the Party. I’ve read each of them more than once. In some parts of the book the spine is already breaking because I’ve spent so much time poring over it and losing hours in this world Olivia Gatwood has partly created, but partly just invited the reader to enter on their own, caution signs be damned. This book is enlightening, inspiring, igniting, and f***ing scary. I loved every word on every page with a ferocity that frightened me.”—Madeline Brewer, actress, The Handmaid’s Tale, Orange Is the New Black, and Cam

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Life of the Party

Girl

after Ada Limón

 

i don’t think i’ll ever not be one

even when the dozen grays sprouting

from my temple take hold and spread

like a sterling fungus across my scalp,

even when the skin on my hands is loose

as a duvet, draped across my knuckles,

even when i know everything there is to know

about heartbreak or envy or the mortality

of my parents, i think, even then i’ll want

to be called girl, no matter the mouth

it comes from or how they mean it,

girl, the curling smoke after a sparkler

spatters into dark, girl, sweet spoon of crystal sugar

at the bottom of my coffee, girl, whole mouth

of whipped cream at the birthday party, say girl,

i think, i’ll never die, i’ll never stop running

through sprinklers or climbing out of open windows

i’ll never pass up a jar of free dum dums

i’ll never stop ripping out the hangnail with my teeth

i’m a good girl, bad girl, dream girl, sad girl

girl next door sunbathing in the driveway

i wanna be them all once, i wanna be

all the girls i’ve ever loved,

mean girls, shy girls, loud girls, my girls,

all of us angry on our porches,

rolled tobacco resting on our bottom lips

our bodies are the only things we own,

leave our kids with nothing when we die

we’ll still be girls then, too, we’ll still be pretty,

still be loved, still be soft to the touch

pink lip and powdered nose in the casket

a dozen sobbing men in stiff suits

yes, even then, we are girls

especially then, we are girls

silent and dead and still

the life of the party.

 

If a Girl Screams in the Middle of the Night

 

and no one is there to hear it

here’s what happens. i’ll tell you.

if she is in the woods, it shoots

from the cannon of her throat

& smacks itself against a branch,

whips around it like a tetherball.

if she is facedown in the moss,

it seeps into the forest floor’s pores,

& every time a hiker passes through,

the days beyond her unravel,

& steps along the sponge-green floor,

a small howl will fan out from beneath his feet.

if the girl is in the city,

the scream gets lodged

in the cubby of a neighbor’s ear,

prevents him from sleeping at night

& so, naturally, he sells it to a secondhand store.

he takes it to the buying counter

in a jewelry box & says,

i don’t know who this belonged to

but i don’t want it anymore.

& though the pierced & dyed employee

is reluctant to take it, she sees the purple

bags like rotting figs under the neighbor’s eyes

so she offers store credit.

& so as not to startle customers,

a small label will be placed on the box

that says a scream & each time a person cracks

it open the girl’s rattling tongue will shake loose

into the store. this happens for months but no one

wants to buy it, to take care of it. everyone wants

to hear it once to feel something & then go back

to their quiet homes, so the store throws it

in a dumpster out back, where the garbage

truck picks it up & smashes it beneath

its hydraulic fists. the scream will get buried

in a landfill somewhere in new jersey

& later the landfill will be coated in grass,

where a wandering child will see a hill,

will throw her body against it

& shriek the whole way down.

 

 

Ghost Story for Masturbating at Sleepovers

 

after Melissa Lozada-Oliva

 

 

have you heard the one about the girls

in sleeping bags littered across the living room floor,

faces next to each other’s feet, bellies full on pantry food

and quiet, eyes vigilant to a black cube television?

 

in my version it goes like: one girl slithers out into the dark

and whispers the song of herself.

soon, they are all on their stomachs,

pushing up against long johns

with the mounds of their palms,

and no one names what is happening, both because

it will become real and because there is not a name

for it yet, only the knowledge

that whatever it is must not be said aloud.

 

in another version, a mother is falling into a still sleep,

certain that her daughter has not yet discovered

that what swells is not always a wound. she wakes,

hours later, to an orchestra of breath in the next room

and makes her way down the hall, hovers in the doorway,

and sees a dozen girls in white, quivering against the carpet.

 

for a moment, a small chaos blooms in her sternum,

cheeks erupt with blood, the dance of denial

in her stomach, and then she remembers her own

small ghosts--the curl of her best friend’s toes in a room

like this one, breath echoing from her pillow

back into her mouth again and again, like this,

until she grew tired and resolved herself into the floor.

 

No Baptism

 

Once, everything was a gift. Once, anything

resembling the thing we wanted was the thing

we wanted. We were not yet gangly and scowling

at the generic cereal in the cabinet

or knock-off Adidas slides with four stripes.

 

When we begged for a swimming pool and my father

filled trash cans with hose water, we saw

what was made for our bodies and no one else’s;

when he built a playhouse from splintered

plywood, with a metal slide, we saw a giant

silver tongue spilling into the dirt.

 

When the sun lifted itself to its highest point,

a proud bully, and the city became a third-degree

burn, we ignored the desert curfew and instead

heard the slide singing, One more ride,

imagined ourselves floating without burns

to the ground. So I stood at the top, naked

under my dress, and let my legs unfold in front

of me, lace parachute ballooning from my hips,

bare butt to the metal, blisters hatching

like small eggs, rising, pink yolks,

 

I heard the drought laughing

with its smoker’s throat:

There’s no water for you here.

the pain I don’t say

out loud, builds a home

inside me.

 

First Grade, 1998

Dylan got busted for bringing a bullet to school & when he slipped the casing out of his pocket like a rare pill we were all certain that the hollow point would explode at any second, our bodies tense and heavy like a dozen dying suns, we imagined his hand blown to confetti but I knew he came from a family that shot big game, I knew they had a meat freezer & glass-eyed deer on every wall, so it wasn’t his fault he didn’t see bullets the way the rest of us did, something he could toss up and catch in his palm with ease & it was the same year my lips were so chapped that the red crack ran up beneath my nose & I couldn’t stop licking the wound & when I left class to hold my burning mouth against the water fountain, Frankie was passed out & bleeding from his forehead on the hallway floor & Ms. Rosemary said I might have saved his life, whether that’s true, I don’t know, what I do know is that Frankie was a redheaded soundless child & after that he wouldn’t stop talking about almost dying but never gave me credit for discovering his body & the next week Jeremy launched himself off a swing set & his forearm bone shot through his bent wrist, I saw it, anyway, I heard the word fractured in a spelling bee so when I ran to tell Ms. Amy, I was set on flaunting my new vocabulary but the hard corners jutted into my cheeks & my memory went soft & so I just stood there stuttering about the skeleton & finally, when Ms. Amy found Jeremy in the grass, the word wriggled its way into my mouth & I shouted, It’s fractured! & Ms. Amy whipped & snapped, It’s so much more than that, but I was just happy to have spoken my new language & then there was the family of baby pink mice in the reading corner & Carl, my favorite custodian, had to remove them, but rumor has it that he gathered them in a sock & smashed them under a rock in the parking lot & I couldn’t look at him the same after that, based on my understanding he was a murderer of tiny things & we were tiny things, I remember, even then, understanding the smallness of myself, of all of us & the way we had to dodge & skip through the world like rodents under the boots of men, except for once, when Miguel went on vacation to Mexico & was killed in a collapsed cave & we planted him a tree but it was just a seedling, no taller than my right knee & when we all stood in a circle to wish him goodbye, I remember looking at the struggling plant, its wiry arms & frail trunk & feeling, for the first time, big.

[my favorite pastime is watching the babysitter put her hair into a ponytail. she smooths it flat against her scalp & even when i think it must be perfect she smooths it again, gathers the overflow in her fist and removes a black elastic from her wrist, stretches and slaps till there’s no slack, splits the tail in two & yanks the arms apart, forehead skin strained taut against her skull, eyebrows pulled to an arch like a doll drawn happy.]

- About the author -

Olivia Gatwood has received national recognition for her poetry, writing workshops, and work as an educator in sexual assault prevention and recovery. She is the author of the poetry chapbook New American Best Friend, and her poems have appeared in such publications as Muzzle, Winter Tangerine, Poetry City, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Missouri Review. As a finalist at Brave New Voices, Women of the World Poetry Slam, and the National Poetry Slam, Gatwood has been featured on HBO, HuffPost, MTV, VH1, and the BBC, among other media outlets. She is a full-time touring artist, and has performed at more than two hundred schools and universities worldwide.

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Life of the Party

Poems

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Life of the Party

— Published by Dial Press Trade Paperback —