Recently I was able to see spoken word duo Speak Like a Girl perform as part of an open mic on campus. For the uninitiated, spoken word, also referred to as slam poetry, is poetry intended to be performed aloud. For me, the appeal of spoken word is the array of diverse voices. Most of the poets I listen to are women, writing about their experiences with harassment, homophobia, and body shaming. Speak Like a Girl’s Olivia Gatwood and Megan Falley both fall into that niche, and together they work to bring education and activism to college campuses through their poetry.
Falley is the author of two full length collections of poetry and a chapbook of poems about Lana Del Rey entitled Bad Girls, Honey. Olivia Gatwood is the author of the chapbook Drunk Sugar, writer for Bustle and HelloFlo, and she and Falley are both National Poetry Slam finalists. They’re both educators, as well: Gatwood teaches workshops on feminism, poetry, and sexual health, Falley created on online writing course called Poems That Don’t Suck.
I was introduced to Megan Falley by my best friend, whose favorite poem is Falley’s “Fat Girl”. (At their show she introduced it by reading a YouTube comment where she’s called a hippo and defiantly ate a cream puff – the cream puffs were amazing.) My favorite poem of the night would have to be their “Collapse the Economy”, for the line “Oh you thought we were gonna stop at burning bras? Well then you shouldn’t have given us so much flammable shit”.
I had watched YouTube videos of their poems before going to the show, but they were nothing compared to seeing them in person. Falley and Gatwood channel so much rage in “Princess Peach Speaks” I could easily picture them beating Mario bloody with a pink parasol. Maybe the most powerful moment of the night came from Falley’s solo poem, about an abusive ex she refers to as “El Diablo” because “it’s better than imagining him small and with a mother”. I had chills all through the piece, but toward the end of the poem when she finally names him I think I gasped out loud. Her performance reminded me of one of the reasons I love spoken word; because Falley is telling her own story on her own terms, taking full control. As she says in the final line, “it has always been my show”.
Although they were dealing with pretty heavy subject matter, in between poems Falley and Gatwood kept it light, joking around and sharing fun facts. The previously mentioned reading of YouTube comments was a riot. One commenter suggested that all the feminists are given their own country, which Falley and Gatwood immediately embraced as a fantastic idea. They were educating throughout the show too, taking time to poll their audience about their experience with street harassment (almost every hand went up), talking about the wage gap, and defining terms like “rape culture” and “gold star lesbian”. They closed their set on “Ode to the Selfie”, inviting everyone to take advantage of a selfie stick and some props outside, including signs with lines from their poems on them. Along the usual t-shirts and copies of their books, the merch table also had a stack of pamphlets with information about feminism, organizations they support, poets they recommend and contact information for sexual assault and domestic violence hotlines.
The thing I loved most about Speak Like a Girl was that I left feeling energized. The show could have easily been a depressing look at the status quo, but instead Gatwood and Falley have put together a program that tackles serious issues with enough humor and hope to inspire their audience. Every poem they performed carried the message that women can and should take control. I walked out (after taking a selfie, of course) feeling empowered, ready to dismantle the patriarchy and maybe write some poetry.
– Erin Norton-Lannen