Poem of the Week: “WHEN I SAY THAT WE ARE ALL TEEN GIRLS” by Olivia Gatwood

Center for Poetry intern, Jillian Bowe, chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say about it: “Olivia Gatwood is an unapologetic force bringing light to all the glory and frustration of being a girl. Her re-contextualization of the words “teen girl” in this piece, paired with her grace in captivating a stage, serves as a fresh reminder to those who minimize the validity of these girls and their lives that we are all, in some way, more “teen girl” than we think.”

View a live performance of this poem here.


by Olivia Gatwood

what I mean is that when my grandmother

called to ask why I didn’t respond to her letter,

all I heard was, Why didn’t you

text me back? Why don’t you love me?

And how can I talk about my grandmother

without also mentioning that if everyone

is a teen girl, then so are the birds, their soaring

cliques, their squawking throats,

and the sea, of course, the sea,

its moody push and pull, the way we drill

into it, fill it with our trash, take and take

and take from it and still it holds us

each time we walk into it.

What is more teen girl than not being

loved but wanting it so badly

that you accept the smallest crumbs and call

yourself full; what is more teen girl than

my father’s favorite wrench, its eternal loyalty

and willingness to loosen the most stubborn of bolts;

what is more teen girl than my mother’s chewed

nail beds, than the whine of the floorboards in her


What is more teen girl than my dog, Jack,

whose bark is shrill and unnecessary,

who has never once stopped a burglar

or heeled on command but sometimes

when I laugh, his tail wags

so hard it thumps against the wall, sometimes

it sounds like a heartbeat, sometimes I yell at him

for talking too much, for his messy room,

sometimes I put him in pink, striped polos

and I think he feels pretty,

I think he likes to feel pretty,

I think Jack is a teen girl.

and the mountains, oh, the mountains,

what teen girls they are, those colossal show-offs,

and the moon, glittering and distant

and dictating all of our emotions.

My lover’s tender but heavy breath while she sleeps

is a teen girl, how it holds me and keeps

me awake all at once, how I sometimes wish

to silence it, until she turns her body and

the room goes quiet and suddenly I want it back.

Imagine the teen girls gone from our world,

and how quickly we would beg for their return,

how grateful would we be then for their loud


and ability to make a crop top out of anything.

Even the men who laugh their condescending laughs

when a teen girl faints at the sight of her

favorite pop star, even those men are teen girls,

the way they want so badly to be so big

and important and worshipped by someone.

Pluto, the teen girl, and her rejection

from the popular universe,

and my father, a teen girl, who insists he doesn’t

believe in horoscopes but wants me to tell

him about the best traits of a Scorpio,

I tell him, We are all just teen girls,

and my father, having raised me, recounts the time he

found the box of love notes and condom wrappers I

hid in my closet, all of the bloody sheets, the missing


the radio blaring over my pitchy sobs,

the time I was certain I would die of heartbreak

and in a moment was in love with a small, new boy,

and of course there are the teen girls,

the real teen girls, huddled on the subway

after school, limbs draped over each other’s shoulders

bones knocking, an awkward wind chime

and all of the commuters, who plug in their


to mute the giggle, silence the gaggle and squeak,

not knowing where they learned to do this,

to roll their eyes and turn up the music,

not knowing where they learned this palpable rage,

not knowing the teen girls are our most distinguished

professors, who teach us to bury the burst

until we close our bedroom doors,

and then cry with blood in the neck,

foot through the door, face in the pillow,

the teen girls who teach us to scream.

from New American Best Friend

Copyright © 2018 Button Poetry

Published by cpoetrymsu

The Center for Poetry opened in the fall of 2007 to encourage the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry and to create an awareness of the place and power of poetry in our everyday lives. We think about this in a number of ways, including through readings, shows, community outreach, and workshops. We are at work building a poetry community at MSU and in the greater Lansing area. Contact: cpoetry@msu.edu (517) 884-1932 http://www.poetry.rcah.msu.edu

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