Review: Olivia Gatwood’s Life of the Party with Penguin Live @ Dancehouse, Manchester

Having bought and read Olivia Gatwood’s Life of the Party in advance of reviewing her live show and having seen poems in the contents titled Ghost story for masturbating at sleepovers, The boy says he loves Ted Bundy but doesn’t laugh about it and Blowjob elegy, I knew I was in for an evening of powerful poetry.

Safe to say I was not disappointed.

In Gatwood’s first full collection Life of the Party, she weaves together an assorted collection of odes, anecdotes, sonnets and prose to form soulfully candid moments that reflect and question the experiences of young women in today’s society.

However in her exclusive tour in association with Penguin Live, Gatwood gives a personal performance of some of the poems in the book and provides an in-depth insight into the context surrounding them, attempting to understand and unpack some of the questions they pose.

In her performance of the first poem – Girl – Gatwood intensely sets the premise of the evening: summarising the sentiment of her poetry into one powerful stanza reflecting of an internalised reduction of women of all kinds into an ideal of notion ‘girl’. I was struck with the importance of hearing the words spoken the way Gatwood meant them to be heard.

Throughout the evening, her performance was unwaveringly harsh but beautiful, the impact of the poems somehow even more gut-wrenching in person. Her dexterity as a spoken word poet became clear and continued throughout her performance. It was compelling to hear Gatwood’s personal explanation of the poems, her fascination of and inspiration by true crime in particular.

Revealing how she had become fascinated by the representation of women in true crime narratives, Gatwood also discussed how much of Life of the Party wrestles with the idea that all crime documentaries value is “how a woman looks and why she deserved it.”

She examined how the story of a dead girl affects a reader and the fear of violence she experiences, knowing how many of her friends are that ‘girl’ and how we all know that ‘girl’.

Through her candid reflection of her own fear she preserves a sense of assured self-confidence and relatability which embodies a raw and unflinching reflection on the challenges and ecstasies of what it means to be a woman.

One thing that was very clear, as a sea of young women queued patiently with pre-purchased books emblazoned with Life of the Party in neon pink, is Gatwood’s candid honesty about her own experiences of womanhood, of fear and violence and growing up. This speaks not only to but for a generation of women who want to be heard.

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