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Ode to a hawk

Poet Olivia Gatwood speaks of her teenage experiences (Photo by Amber Denham '18).
Written by Amber Denham

St. Joe’s first poetry slam is a success. 

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The Student Union Board (SUB) at Saint Joseph’s University welcomed two spoken word poets, Olivia Gatwood and Ashlee Haze, to the stage at the Perch on Sept. 29.

Sara Clark ’19, an executive member of SUB, recalled meeting Gatwood and Haze at the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA), a leadership conference where students are exposed to a variety of events to bring to their schools.

“After all the performances, I immediately ran down to Olivia,” Clark said. “I asked her how she would feel about coming to perform at our school with Ashlee, even though it would be pretty small. She loved it and thought it would be the most empowering thing ever.”

Gatwood opened with one of her most well-known pieces, “Ode To My Bitch Face,” beautifully shutting down misogynistic behavior one syllable at a time.

Growing up in both New Mexico and Trinidad, Gatwood brought with her unique experiences, such as navigating girlhood, puberty, relationships, and yes, even an ode to period underwear.

“I was a pretty emotional teenager and I think at that age I was simultaneously looking for an outlet to take that emotional weight off myself as well as seeking community and validation,” Gatwood said. “I think spoken word poetry in particular enabled me to do both.”

To follow, Haze brought her soulful, Atlanta-based personality to the stage. Through various poetic styles, she shared experiences about what it means to be a African American woman in America, memories with her family, and that time Missy Elliot sat on her couch.

“I’ve been writing since I was a kid; I just wrote all of my emotions into terrible A-B rhyme schemes, and eventually it became part of my life and cathartic for me,” Haze said. “Spoken word also brings a performance element where you have to change your voice inflections and perform your piece, and I like to play around with that a lot.”

Over the past year, SUB has focused on bringing more diverse programs to Saint Joseph’s, expanding not only their audience, but the messages these events bring to campus.

“One of the main questions we had as a group was if SUB is being diverse enough, with our biggest step towards that being the drag show last semester,” Clark said. “I think this poetry event will open up that diversity door a bit more as both artists come from ethnic backgrounds which will hopefully bring a variety of groups together.”

Word of Gatwood and Haze’s performances spread quickly around Philadelphia as the Perch opened its doors to not only the school community, but to individuals of the City of Brotherly Love as well.

“Both artists were incredible and time flew by. Even by the end of the night, we wanted more,” said Chad Gurdgiel, who heard about Gatwood’s performance and came from the city to see her. “I’d give it three thumbs up.”

Despite coming from different backgrounds, both artists hold similar values. Though times can bea bit difficult, these empowering women refuse to let hardships stop them from sharing their words.

“My most emotional poem I don’t perform in the college setting because it’s so draining, but I love to perform ‘Self Reclamation,’” Haze said. “I love to see representation from women who have powerful voices. My advice to aspiring writers would be to read more than you write and listen more than you speak.”

Gatwood offered similar advice to young female writers.

“My most difficult poem to write I also don’t perform too frequently because it’s vulnerable, but ‘Ode to the Women on Long Island’ is a fun one to perform,” Gatwood added. “I’d say [it is important] for aspiring female poets to surround yourself with badass women and to learn from them.”

Each artist, having released their respective poetry collections within the past year, welcomed the community to stop by their merch tables, say hi and take a selfie with them.

For anyone who missed the first of this potential tradition, don’t worry–it’s still possible to experience all the laughter, tears and beautifully delivered spoken word in Gatwood and Haze’s respective poetry collections, “New American Best Friend” and “Land of the Living.”

About the author

Amber Denham

Amber Denham, '18

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