Marc Bamuthi Joseph, MC of the Line Breaks series conducted every Monday night at the Wisconsin Historical Society, ended his introduction of the spoken-word poet and activist Alix Olson with this critical character analysis: "I met her in Hawaii, and my kid loves her."
Olson bounded into the spotlight shortly after, and wasted no time before introducing the audience to her menstrual cycle (it's almost that time) and describing the effect meeting Joseph's child had on her ovaries (they howled long and hard).
Olson has been called many things, described numerous ways, but "loved by children" is a recent addition. "Fearless" is a word often used, as Joseph pointed out towards the end of Monday night's performance, along with "dynamic," "extraordinary," and "mesmerizing." Much more profane words have been used as well.
These words fuel her pieces, however, as evidenced by "Subtle Sister," inspired by men who told her to be a little less angry, a little more subtle. The piece reached a crescendo with the rhetorical questions "Subtle like a penis pounding its target? Subtle like your hissing from across the street?" "Comforting" is not a word Monday's audience would use to describe her.
Like any quality poet, Olson's work hinges on powerful words, which she speaks explosively into the mike. Her poems are a series of twists and turns, words and phrases used in new ways to illuminate and define. Her innovative style in "America's on Sale" brings humor to the oppressive issues of capitalistic oppression and societal commodification. At the very least, she puts on a good show, and her physical stage presence demands attention.
The subject matter was generally familiar to the left-leaning audience, and Olson garnered laughs when discussing the difficulties of living as an activist. "I want to take a road trip," she sweetly observed, and then blasted "But that uses oil! People [are] dying!" Indicative of her style in general, she moves between the cutest, giggliest woman you have ever seen to the loudest, most in-your-face lesbian-feminist you have ever avoided.
The crowd was involved as well; when Joseph asked for a show of hands as to who attended last Monday's decidedly more hip-hop-leaning Jeff Chang and Rennie Harris lecture, by his estimate, 15% of the audience raised their hands.
"The demographic shift is fascinating to me," exclaimed Joseph, indicative of his tendency to think extraordinary thoughts out loud, and to a large audience. "This is part of what we are trying to address to this community."