Life of the Party

Life of the Party  by Olivia Gatwood  Disclosure: Advance reader copy made available in exchange for an honest review.

Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood

Disclosure: Advance reader copy made available in exchange for an honest review.

A cursory online search for true crime podcasts reveals links with titles such as “52 of the Best True Crime Podcasts” and “Why True Crime Is Podcast Crack — for Women”. Search for yourself to see. There truly are more than fifty current podcast titles that at least one group of editors deemed worthy of people’s time and attention. And women seem to enjoy them. A lot.

More quick “research” turns up statistics like 75% of true crime podcast listeners are female. My Favorite Murder has around 80% female followers on Twitter, the most of any such podcast in this genre.

True crime podcasting and poetry might not appear at first blush to have much overlap, but Olivia Gatwood’s Life of the Party proves otherwise. With the ostensibly ekphrastic “Ode to My Favorite Murder”, for instance, Ms. Gatwood unwraps some of the knotty truth behind America’s moment of macabre obsession. She also lays bare a stark racial and sociopolitical through-line with her cross-sectional verse.

Each piece builds on the preceding pages, alternating from verse to prose and back again, volleying forward unpleasant truths like the bouncing dot over lyrics during a rather dark singalong.

A brief bit of background: Ms. Gatwood hosts her own podcast entitled SAY MORE, though it is not devoted to true crime. She also advocates and educates on the subject of sexual assault prevention and recovery. As a writer, her work has been published in journals and a previous book (New American Best Friend), as well as seen or heard on many international television channels, including HBO, VH1, and BBC.

“I am not terrified because true crime told me to be,” she writes in the opening pages, “I am terrified because I have been here long enough to know I should be.”

While the #MeToo movement has shed light on some of this country’s darkest alleys and corners and bedrooms, women’s struggles have not come screeching to a halt. Feminism is still the future, many of us believe, but it is sadly not quite the present. Not yet.

Olivia Gatwood, Photo courtesy of Random House

Olivia Gatwood, Photo courtesy of Random House

“This is a book of poems about true crime,” she says. “It is also a book of poems about the many small violences a person can withstand.” These early statements portend with an almost startling accuracy the poems to come.

Life of the Party does not only speak in the language of true crime (or equally violent fictions), but it is at its best when it does so. Armed with this lexicon, Ms. Gatwood deftly brings to light the inequity inherent in American politics and culture. In so doing, she exposes what many refuse to see even in broad daylight.

dab your eye, we know

you like it gory

only the blondes get a

cover story


girls go missing right

around the corner

but she needs a tiara for

us to mourn her


naturally attractive,

exceptionally bright

how many ways can we

say the word white?

In this poem (“Murder of a Little Beauty”, reflecting on the JonBenét Ramsey murder), the meter and rhyme echo both the cadence and emphasis of the piece as well as the author’s own spoken word performances.

Ms. Gatwood writes with clarity, insight, and an incisive wit (see “Ode to My Bitch Face”). Her language pricks the skin immediately. One feels her presence throughout the text, as though she sits there on the couch, reading over the shoulder, pronouncing each word in turn. Such is the strength and energy of her voice.

Ms. Gatwood has written a millennial tour de force.

Apart from a very tiny number of wooden or overworked phrases (“smiles painted onto their faces”), the book offers precious little to complain about. On the contrary, each piece builds on the preceding pages, alternating from verse to prose and back again, volleying forward unpleasant truths like the bouncing dot over lyrics during a rather dark singalong.

Ms. Gatwood has written a millennial tour de force. Her work is reminiscent of Lavina Blossom’s “After the Harlequinn”, a poem written in the same mode, though a full three decades prior. At the same time, some of the poems could almost have been penned by Lena Dunham’s character from HBO’s Girls. Such is the timeless and yet thoroughly modern nature of the work.

One prays to the literature gods to come across a great new poem. When they answer with an entire collection of poetry, you have a moral obligation to spread the news. Olivia Gatwood’s Life of the Party may very well be the book of poetry that we needed to slap us out of our stupor.

Neal Tucker