Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Olivia Gatwood is a poet, performer, and educator. A Brave New Voices, Women of the World, and National Poetry Slam finalist, her poetry has been featured on HBO, Huffington Post, MTV, VH1, and BBC. Her latest book, New American Best Friend, reflects her experiences growing up in both New Mexico and Trinidad, navigating girlhood, relationships, class, and sexuality. Olivia is also a Title IX Compliant educator in sexual assault prevention and recovery and has performed internationally at over 200 schools and universities.
Ever since discovering Olivia’s poetry on Youtube at 16, her words have become a constant in my life. They’ve made their way into sleepovers, my irrational horror at the doctor’s office, and early-morning bus rides. They’ve helped me in times of uncertainty, encouraging me to take pride in the things I was once ashamed of. Olivia was kind enough to speak with me about her work and experience as a poet, Title IX educator, and her upcoming book, set to release with The Dial Press/Random House in 2019.

More… “Ode to Olivia”

Camille DiBenedetto is a staff writer for The Smart Set and an English major at Drexel University. In her free time, you can find her watching romantic comedies, listening to slam poetry, or rereading The Summer I Turned Pretty for the 27th time.


“This book is about modern poetry.” That’s how David Orr begins his introduction to Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry. It is a fine way to begin a book. But it isn’t true.

Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr. 224 pages. Harper. $25.99

I, for one, like a book that isn’t about what it claims to be about. More interesting yet is a book that continually redefines what it is about. Orr does that, too. After having claimed in the beginning of his book that he is writing about modern poetry, he opens his first chapter talking about what it means to be a critic of poetry. Poetry criticism is something Orr is well placed to talk about since he writes the “On Poetry” column for the New York Times and is… More…

Why do so many poets commit suicide? My daughter’s away at college and planning to be a poet. Needless to say, I’m worried. Can you say anything to discourage this trend? — R. D.


I once dressed up as Sylvia Plath for a “Dress as Your Favorite Poet” festival. I wore a box painted as an oven over my head. Funny, right? Plath’s dramatic exit from this world has made her the poster child for poets who have committed suicide: John Berryman, Anne Sexton, and more recently, Sarah Hannah — professor at Emerson College, where I received my MFA. Those are only three names swimming in the sea of dead tortured artists — we always use that term, don’t we? We hide the agent by using the passive case, suggesting a flawed psychosis or something else so private… More…


I wanted to read a poem to my gathered family before our Christmas meal. Could you recommend several? What would your top five Christmas poems be? — Already-Frazzled-Preparer-of-a-Christmas-Feast

I guess it would be totally lame to cite my favorite Christmas poem (“A Visit From St. Nicholas”—“’Twas the night before Christmas”), but that’s a really good one, very entertaining if you will have little ones at your table. My other top poems are below:

Emily Dickinson writes a good one (of course, right?):

Before the ice is in the pools — Before the skaters go, Or any cheek at nightfall Is tarnished by the snow —

Before the fields have finished — Before the Christmas tree, Wonder upon wonder — Will arrive to me!

The poem goes on in two more quatrains, but it gets a little inaccessible, so… More…


What do you tell parents of would-be poets who worry about their children’s ability to make a living writing sonnets? — Your father, Sierra Vista, Arizona P.S. Do you want me to send you that law school application?

It is perfectly natural to feel the worry you express, and especially if your child is nearing the end of her MFA program that offers no job placement upon completion, but I don’t think she is relying solely on her ability to write sonnets to make her living. The great Nobel laureate, poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky makes a bold and validating claim that, in my personal experience, I have found to be true:  “The more one reads (and by extension, writes) poetry, the less tolerant one becomes of any sort of verbosity, be it in political or philosophical discourse,… More…


I’m in love with poet Billy Collins. Do poets make good husbands? If so, how might I woo him? — Jaqi H., Watertown, Massachusetts

Well, many poets haven’t had the best track records as mates, but I think Billy Collins would make a great husband. Unfortunately for you though, he already is one. But do not despair, Jaqi H.!  These six steps will help you cope with your Billy Collins addiction:

Admit you are powerless to Billy Collins. In the presence of Billy Collins (maybe at a poetry reading at a local university where the acoustics are perfect and the wine is plenty), your knees become wobbly as his verses caress the hairs of your inner ear and you need to sit down. Admit that all you will ever need in your life is Billy Collins. “Billy,” you… More…


What are poets doing to lessen their carbon footprint? — Lisa G., St. Louis, Missouri

Dean Young’s “Whale Watch” captures the sentiment of many poets regarding the Earth’s environmental condition, no matter what our political persuasions:

…You may want to fall to your knees and beg forgiveness without knowing precisely for what. You may have a hole in your heart. You may solve the equation but behind it lurks another equation. You may never get what you want and feel like you’re already a ghost and a failed ghost at that, unable to walk through walls…

All poets can vary along on a continuum — from Green Peace supporters who have converted to veganism, to monster truck drivers who don’t recycle — but the current environmental crisis has, I believe, made all poets feel a little guilty every… More…


How much does it cost to be a poet? — Kerri L., Cordova, Tennessee 

I wrote poems when I was 13 and it didn’t cost a dime. Unfortunately, most poets want recognition, and that can cost a lot. True, poets don’t need to go to school to write good poems, but these days poets are expected to give lectures, conduct workshops, and write intelligible and pertinent blurbs on the back of other poetry books. Those all require a decent amount of education, probably including grad school, which can get expensive depending on where you go. But that’s just the monetary cost — there are others.

When you are a poet in this age, your eyes go bad from too much time spent in front of the computer screen and you may develop carpal tunnel syndrome from deleting and… More…


What do poets eat for dinner? — Molly M., Chicago, Illinois

The poet Thomas Lux eats boiled potatoes and chicken carcasses among other delicacies cataloged in “Refrigerator, 1957,” but not anything whose ingredients call for maraschino cherries, “full, fiery globes like strippers/ at a church social.” Maybe he is outraged by the cruel treatment the cherries endure in order to become maraschino, but what he actually says is this: “you do not eat/ that rips the heart with joy.” In general, I tend to listen, except when it comes to avocados.

Dinner for poets may be tasty, of course, and possibly themed, but at least for Lux and me, rarely do poets eat anything whose physical qualities and metaphorical applications are superior to their taste. So we eat kidney beans. Mmm, we love kidney beans. But then we… More…