If Olivia Gatwood had never found poetry, she would probably be dead by now. She said this nonchalantly backstage before a performance at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg for several hundred fans.
A few minutes later, she was slathering lavender oil on her tattooed arms. “I don’t like perfume,” she said. “It makes me feel like a dead lady — like I’m being embalmed.”
Despite all the death talk and the fact that her latest collection of poetry, “Life of the Party,” revolves around violence against women, Gatwood, 27, is easygoing and effervescent (not to mention resourceful — backstage, she turned avocados into impromptu guacamole with little more than a wine key and a coffee stirrer).
She recently finished her tour across the United States with the singer Ari Chi and the cellist Cailin Nolte. Gatwood plans and funds her own tours and often handles the transportation herself, driving a 10-passenger van from city to city.
Gatwood started performing poetry in high school; soon after graduating, she was part of Brave New Voices, a poetry festival that has been featured on HBO. But many of her fans found her through YouTube, where she has cultivated a mostly female audience with performances of poems such as “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and “Ode to My Bitch Face” that have garnered hundreds of thousands of views. A children’s book she wrote with Mahogany L. Browne and Elizabeth Acevedo, “Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice,” is scheduled for release in March.