Poet Alix Olson at the Woodstock Writers Festival

(At this year’s Woodstock Writers Festival Gretchen Primack will teach a workshop on Friday, April 20th and lead a panel discussion on Saturday, April 21st. Tickets are selling fast, so don’t hesitate. Here’s an introduction to Alix Olson, who will appear on the panel.)

On Alix Olson, By Gretchen Primack

I had the pleasure of hearing Alix Olson perform a few times back in the ‘90s in New York City, and she was on fire every time. Some performers look like it’s a job to do what they do, and some look like they’re in pain. Not Alix: The poems poured out of her as urgent, necessary pleasures. And she’s so damn smart! Such music alongside the sense, outrage cut by just the right amount of wry humor. And effective: Hey, when you’ve got Howard Zinn saying, “Alix brought me to my feet. She is an ingenious poet, a brilliant performer, a funny person and serious thinker. She is, quite simply, extraordinary”—well, if he’d said that about me, I would have uttered the old chestnut, “I can die now.”

Alix is certainly more in-your-face politically than Joan Larkin, and each is a master of the path she’s chosen. Here’s Alix’s take on our nation’s idea of “criminal.” The reference to the Seattle WTO protests will date this piece, but if you subbed OWS, it could have been written this morning. And the ending? Perfect.

for model-citizens everywhere
©2001 Alix Olson.

They sat me down
in the big green police chair
With a big green light cornering my soul.
They said:
You tell us who’s the boogey man, ma’am
You point out the Criminal.
And they tell me they can tell I’m a
First-class, top-notch, jury-duty, law-abiding
Kind of chick.
So, I flash my big, bright smile, I say:
Well, I’m glad that’s what you think.

And they hand me a box of composites
Stacked in some kind of alphabetical caste
Where last names don’t seem to matter,
Goes from A to Black to Blacker.
But I’m a model-citizen and
Model-citizens don’t cause kinks.
Yes, I’m a model-citizen
So I sit my top-notch ass down to think.

In the morning paper, they say:
Those spam-eating spics
are out to scam your family.
Yeah, they’ll rob your job,
Soak up the last three drops in this
Trickle down, down,
Down-under country.
Well, while big-business takes its little piggies
To market
By keeping us dependent,
The morning paper says:
The Criminal’s
The Immigrant.

And on the four o’clock pop-rock talk show, Joe says:
Yeah, a dyke is easy to spot.
She looks like a man, talks like a man, acts like a man, Yeah
But she’s sure as hell not.
And all the other guests say:
Yeah, Joe, I think she’s out to get your woman.
And by five o’clock, all the other Joe’s in America know
The Criminal’s
The Lesbian

And on the TV News, it’s:
Poor Black Women (colon) The Expert Opinion
And all these white male scholars saying:
Well, she shouldn’t have a baby if she can’t feed him.
But she shouldn’t have an abortion either,
She should just know better.
You see, knowledge is power
Yeah, but power is money and
Money’s what matters.

And in the New York Times,
it’s handcuffed protestors in Seattle
And the headline reads:
Angry Activists Start a Battle
And the World Bank Leaders and the WTO
And Disney and Visa and Mansanto
And Goodyear and Texaco
All smile and say:
Sure is nice to own the paper on a day like today!

So, I’m sitting in the big, green police chair
With a big, green light cornering my soul.

They say:
You tell us who’s the boogey man, ma’am
You point out the criminal

So I finger the composites stacked in my hand,
I flash my big, bright model-citizen smile.
I say:
I’m sorry Sir.
But the criminal
Ain’t in this pile.

Reprinted from Olson’s Web site, alixolson.com
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The Hudson Valley Poetry Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges.

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