Poetically Speaking: Manic Pixie Dream Girl Says by Olivia Gatwood

This year I’m bringing back Poetically Speaking for National Poetry Month (April) to discuss some of my favorite poems. Today’s poem is “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” by Olivia Gatwood:

Have you heard this record? Manic Pixie Dream Girl says,
Let me save you with this record.
Let me put the headphones on for you, and smile, while you listen;
cut to your point of view

watch me smile while you listen. Hear that?
That’s the sound of you becoming a better person.

I’m gonna paint a picture of a bird on your beige wall
without your permission and you’re gonna love it.

And you thought you hated birds.
See me, encouraging you to take risks?

Manic Pixie Dream Girl wants you to do something you’ve never done before.
Like smile, or go swing-dancing.

You wanna know my name?
You never call me by it anyway.

If I had to guess, it would probably be a season
or after a dead actress who you loved as a child.

But this isn’t about me, this is about you
and your cubicle job, your white bedroom

your white Honda, your white mother.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl says, I’m going to save you

says, Don’t worry, you are still the lead role.
This is your love story, about the way I teach you to live.

Everything they know about me
they will learn when it is projected onto you.

Watch the way you pick up my bad habits
and make them look good.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl talks too much
says bad words out loud and cries at the commercials.

That makes me a funny woman, right?
The kind people like to laugh at?

It’s easy to root for you when I act like this–
so disagreeable, such a manic dream.

Dream Girl, your almost broken accessory.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl says

Let’s play make believe with my body.

I’ll be a vintage dress with an empty prescription
bottle, good girl, just bad enough

a burp
and a curtsy,

let me be not too pretty
hair fried from all that pink dye

sex when you need it puppet when you’re bored,
let me build myself smaller than you,

let me apologize when I get caught acting bigger than you.
Let me always wait for this, let me work for this.

The convenient thing about being a magical woman
is that I can be gone as quickly as I came

and when you are a whole person
for the first time, the movie is over

Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t go on,
there’s no need for her anymore

Manic Pixie Dream Girl is too dream girl
and you just woke up.

Once, I told you I was afraid
of my father and for a moment, I looked so human

the audience lost interest
you saw the crow’s feet at the sides of my eyes

and a small chip on my front tooth.
I looked just like everyone else.

You can watch Gatwood read “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJjJfE_QNMY

I found this poem last year after picking up Gatwood’s collection New American Best Friend. You can find Gatwood’s work online and buy her books on Bookshop.org

This is the kind of poem that I wish I had written myself. I love the imagery, the distinct details, and the way the poem dismantles the supposed mythic beauty of the manic pixie dream girl trope.

Every part of this poem is haunting, particularly the conclusion, but I especially like this line: “The convenient thing about being a magical woman is that I can be gone as quickly as I came.”