3 min

Say it with style

Alix Olson uses her voice for a better world

FREEDOM TO SPEAK. Alix Olson loves rhythm and rhyme, and knows fairy tales are not frivolous. Credit: Xtra West files

Some art’s about, say, high brow things

Some art’s about the eyebrow rings…

Some art’s all multi-coloured till it goes behind the scenes

Then it comes out all multi-corporate

and it only comes in green

My art’s not made like that…

My art’s not dressed for that…

My art wears the same clothes seven days a week

‘Cause my art doesn’t seem to care about what other people think…

My art forgot her tampon and she’s bleeding through her jeans.

“I’m not out there to be a preacher,” begins Alix Olson, though some people might disagree.

Olson has just returned from her workout in the hotel gym where she’s staying in Chicago. Being on the road is nothing new for this increasingly well-known spoken word artist. She’s on tour 300 days a year; she recently gave up her Brooklyn apartment and bought a van.

“What drives me to get on stage every night is [the need] to demonstrate that you can speak your truth,” says the 27-year-old lesbian.

It’s about carrying on a tradition, she explains. It’s about making her contribution to all the feminist, lesbian, radical struggles that have come before her.

And it’s about being out-and proud. “Anybody who feels the freedom to speak out has the responsibility to do so,” Olson explains.

“Because for every person who has the freedom to speak, there are a thousand people who don’t.

“People call me an idealist,” she says. But what’s wrong with having some ideals? They’re not even necessarily impractical, she adds, despite what the mainstream media would have people believe.

Olson’s frustration with the mainstream media is palpable, particularly around their coverage of the recent peace protests.

Most networks give the protesters two seconds of airtime, before turning to another retired colonel, she broods. That doesn’t represent the average US citizens she meets on her journeys and in her audiences.

And it won’t stop her from speaking her truth about the war on Iraq either.

“I sense relief,” she says, when she performs her anti-war material. “So many of us are on the defensive so much of the time.” It’s a relief to be able to talk about it and laugh about it.

Olson says her shows are a little like mini-peace rallies themselves. They’re partly about forming community and meeting “like-minded souls.”

And they’re partly about the poetry, of course.

“Words have always been something that played on my tongue,” Olson says, “and I have always had the urge to speak them.

“I have a profound love for rhythm and rhyme,” she continues, for finding the way to say it that makes it “click through my teeth.”

But poetry without activism is meaningless to Olson. “They’re inseparable,” she explains. “I wouldn’t write poetry if it weren’t [about] the kinds of politics I bring to my view of the world.

“I write out of the feelings that I have,” she says, adding that she’d go crazy if she couldn’t. It’s how she makes the world salvageable, she says.

Olson’s been salvaging her world on the spoken word circuit since 1998. That was the year she happened, on the advice of one of her college profs, to enter a poetry slam in a New York café. She won.

Not only did she win that slam, she went on to join a national team of spoken word artists and win that championship, too. Now, she tours on her own.

But she hasn’t forgotten her college days. And she hasn’t abandoned her college material, either. Like Eve’s Mouth, a piece she wrote while she was trying to teach acting to a bunch of elementary school kids.

The kids were supposed to pick some fairy tales and act them out, Olson recalls. When she saw the kinds of scenes they chose, and the sexism that pervaded them, she felt very disturbed. Fairy tales aren’t frivolous, she says. Kids internalize that stuff and little girls learn to be subservient. And straight.

So Olson wrote her own tale, and turned the conventional fairies on their heads.

Now we got Cinderella

She was chilling at home

Quite content with being alone…

She said, ‘I’ll get in the damn pumpkin

I’ll do it all right

Weep in the damn slipper

And freak out in the night

But there’s one thing the prince might not like

It’s the fairy god I’m after-

I’m a dyke!’

* Alix Olson will perform at the WISE Hall May 2. Doors open 8 pm, show starts 9 pm. Tickets cost $15 and are available at Little Sister’s on Davie and Kokopelli’s at 2052 Commercial Dr.


WISE Hall.

May 2, 9 pm.

Tix $15 at Little Sister’s, Kokopelli’s.