Ms. Magazine
MS.CELLANEOUS
-What?
-Just the Facts
-Word: Bi
-Women to Watch
Diary of a Slam Poet
National Poetry Slam champion and outspoken feminist shares a year of her life on the road. By Alix Olson
AD SAVVY
In these two articles, we explore some of the ways ads affect us.

Hooked on Advertising
Cultural critic Jean Kilbourne takes on ads offers new insight into the not-so-obvious messages lurking behind the luster. By Clea Simon

Consuming Passions
Today's advertising execs and their big- business clients are betting that consumers will buy products made by companies that support social causes. Are the ads just talk, or is there substance behind the slogans? By Dan Bischoff

Book Reviews
On the Ms. bookshelf
Saturday's Child by Robin Morgan
The Crimson Edge: Older Women Writing (Volume Two) by Sondra Zeidenstein
Gun Women by Mary Zeiss Stange and Carol K. Oyster

Her Way by Paula Kamen
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
Black, White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver


EDITOR'S PAGE
by Marcia Ann Gillespie

YOUR HEALTH:
-The Latest on Tamoxifen
-Healthnotes

NEWS:
-In Poland, Feminism Is the News
-The Right's Stealth Tactics
-Gloria Steinem's Wedding Day
- Newsmaker: Aloisea Inyumba
- What Will Mexico's New Government Mean for Women?
- Opinion: Blaming the Messenger
- Clippings

UPPITY WOMEN:
Elouise Cobell Takes on the Feds

FIRST PERSON:
Aunt Jemima in the Mirror

TECHNO.FEM:
What's a Hacktivist?

SHE SAYS:
The Body Shop's Anita Roddick

ARTS:
Shirin Neshat Sees Beyond the Veil

COLUMNS
by Daisy Hernandez, Patricia Smith, and Gloria Steinem

NO COMMENT

SEX AND POWER:
Is the feminist movement stuck in mid-revolution? According to this well-known lawyer and activist the answer is yes. Now it's time to move on and harness our power.

 
 
 
 
 

I have always had a big mouth. This has not, however, always been recognized as an art form. The Nuyorican Poets Cafe can take credit for that. Nice girl with rebel rising, I was raised in a conservative steel town. In ninth grade, I was sent to the principal's office for refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag. At the Nuyorican, I was sent to the National Poetry Slam Championship for tossing allegations at the flag in "America's on Sale." A good artist learns that what gets you in trouble in high school is worth paying attention to.

 

I moved to New York City after college to pursue art—an ambiguous goal, I know. I was a feminist. And a dyke. I'd been acting my whole life. I'd always written and loved poetry, savoring the freedom of words in my mouth, but begrudgingly counting pentameter on the page. I would fool around with my guitar late into the night, but five chords weren't enough to make me a folksinger. And so, my amalgam of passions found its home through the prompting of a college professor who had extolled the Nuyorican as "the institutional bedrock of radical poetry." After three weeks of waiting tables, I talked my friend Pete into coming with me to the café. "Poetry Slam?" he said. "They don't throw stuff, do they?"

No, they don't. At a slam, poets get up on stage and perform their work before an audience, which then chooses its favorites. Slam poetry sticks out its tongue at the corporate monolith of rock 'n' roll-over. Its worth is not determined by literary critics but by the people who show up to hear it. It's a tongue-in-cheek competition, a method of enticing people to gather on a Monday night and watch poetry instead of Ally McBeal.Mostly, it's a resurrection of community storytelling.

Spoken word poetry is as innate to me as radical feminism, and in my career, they work side by side. Both give voice to the silenced, battling the elite to redistribute privilege; both are rooted in liberation, valuing the personal as political; both have an incredible sense of humor; both infight passionately-and often; both are an art form, a balancing act, a gold mine. And neither one throws stuff.

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 Monsanto / And Goodyear and Texaco all smile and say, / "Sure is nice to own the paper on a day like today."
-from "Criminals"

Slam Granny is a busy woman. She runs two sister venues, one in Salinas and another in Santa Cruz called The Washrock, which doubles as a laundromat. Tonight I'm in Salinas, where the audience is composed mainly of Mexican farmworkers. Women are bouncing screaming babies on their laps. Slam Granny tells me their English skills are pretty limited. My English-speaking tongue moves fast. At the end, they've got a lot of questions; they're curious about my lesbian identity. We talk about connecting oppressions, about women's rights, immigrant rights. About sharing the world. A seven-year-old girl summarizes: "I treasure the rain / Because rain is good for our crops / And all of us just want to be filled / To the top."

Sometimes anger's subtle, stocked in metaphor / Full of finesse and dressed in allure / Yeah, sometimes anger's subtle, less rage than sad / Leaking slow through spigots you didn't know you had / But sometimes it's just / Fuck you, Fuck you / You see, and to me / That's poetry too.
-from "Don't Think I'm Not a Nice Girl"

"My alma mater is a radical campus," my partner Neeve assures me. It's nice to preach to the converted sometimes. But I've learned that political awareness and emotional healing are separate entities. During the show, a woman cries loudly, and I am pained by the influence of my words. I think of Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, stopping short during a rape story as a woman sobbed. "Is someone holding that woman?" she asked firmly. "Yes!" a group of women answered. Following Ensler's example, I seek out the woman after the show. "Are you alright?" I ask, unsure of the artist/audience boundary. "Oh yes!" she says. "I wasn't crying with sadness. I was crying with rage. It felt great!"

 

I believe art is universal / If you're a straight white male artist talking to straight white men / I believe feminism's in reversal when we believe art is universal / Cause then we're just believing them.
- from "I Believe"

"Well, there was one lesbian singer in Portugal, but she went back in the closet when she became famous," my Porto host tells me. "Feminists?" He thinks for a moment. "Well, there are some, but it is not a welcomed thing like in America." I am the only female spoken word poet at this international festival. For five days, I'm surrounded by male poets eager to bond across cultural barriers. It's a cornucopia of breast-size jokes. On the last evening, a poet from Holland who I have studiously avoided all evening leans toward me and says, "Holland doesn't have sexism, so I'm not used to this American feminist thing." He leans back, drains his beer, and confides the Secret to Art: "Preaching ruins poetry."

Alix Olson and her partner, Amy Neevel, cofounded Feed the Fire Productions, which is sending spoken word artists to underserved communities. For more information, visit www.alixolson.com.