As a trauma survivor, the first time I heard Oliver Schminkey’s poem Two Twin Beds, I was haunted in the best possible way for days. This was among my first memories of getting into the poetry and spoken word scene here in the Twin Cities, and it is the memory of my own reaction to that poem that kept me going back to hear more of Oliver and their colleagues’ work. Since hearing Oliver’s poetry, I’ve followed their career as a musician and visual artist, and I am consistently awed by their raw talent and passion for the material they’re creating. Oliver tackles patriarchy, gender identity (and society’s failings at embracing transgender identities), and queerness with no apologies, and faces their own trauma head on so that others know they’re not alone. Oliver’s quick wit can make the hardest subjects bearable and their passion for social justice brings a crucial perspective to the local arts scene. I am delighted to bring you this Spotlight On the Arts on Oliver, their work, and their activism.
In Their Own Words:
My name is Oliver Schminkey, and most people call me Ollie. I use they/them/theirs pronouns and co-run the Macalester Poetry Slam and a Twin Cities based queer open mic, called OUTspoken! I also founded and run Well-Placed Commas, a weekly poetry workshop, which just produced its first chapbook!! Right now I’m also the guest curator for the Fox Egg Gallery, and I’m planning to open submissions for my collaborative show “Stare Back” sometime in the next few weeks; the project is centered around queer and trans artists’ work and the ways in which we reclaim narratives told about us and instead represent our own selves.
In addition to all of that, I’m a senior in college, a visual artist, a musician, and a nationally touring poet.
If you were explaining yourself as an artist to someone who knew absolutely nothing about art, how would you describe your work?
I think the word “visceral” is overused, so I’m not going to use it, but I’m fascinated with things that are just a little (or a lot) out of whack. In my poetry, visual art, and music, I really like to dance on the line of acceptability. As a non-binary trans person, my body is often sensationalized and dehumanized, so I feel like I must tiptoe on that line to regain some of my humanity. If people are grossed out by the idea of my body and myself existing, then what an act of self-love and resistance it is for me to save my menstrual blood and take pictures of it smeared on my face.
The same thing with poetry; polyamory makes people uncomfortable, and so I’m going to write unapologetically about all of my lovers at once. But I’m not just seeking to ruffle peoples’ feathers; I’m speaking and singing and drawing my own reality that feels completely normal to me — over the edge is just where my life seems to settle constantly.
One thing I personally am really interested as both an activist and an artist is “Why art?” How do you see art’s function in the life of an activist? When did you realize how powerful artistic expression could be for you, and where did you go from there?
Guante said this beautiful thing to me once, that poets and artists need to do concrete things to support activist movements, that simply writing isn’t enough, and I agree. I think my interest in creative mediums came just from being a kid struggling with depression and being a sexual assault survivor in the middle of high school. I needed some way to personally process trauma, and art was it. Now, I still keep doing art in a large part to process new traumas caused by oppression, and in that process arises a form of resistance. The reason art is so powerful is because it gets people to look and to listen; but it’s the money that you raise for organizations through that captivation where activism comes in for me. It’s using your platform of people looking to fight for social justice — art is powerful; it can change minds, but harnessing that energy in tangible ways is what changes oppressive social systems.
I don’t always know, because there are a ton of things that are important to me. I guess if I had to boil it down, it would be that intersectionality is so important; we all hold many identities, and how those identities interact is just as important as which ones we have.
Also that trans people are powerful and phenomenal, poly people too, neuroatypical people too, etc.
Who or what inspires and informs your work the most?
For visual art, in terms of style, I’d say Kiki Smith is the root of many of my loves, but Dalí has also always made my heart throb. I also take a ton of inspiration from local trans artists like Venus DeMars; people like Venus have kind of paved the way for me. Without them, I couldn’t be here and do what I do.
As for poetry, local friends get me most– Danez Smith, Hieu Nguyen, but once again I’m always inspired by trans people, especially Alok and Janani from DarkMatter.
As for music, Kimya Dawson all the way. My music is a place to be quirky and not so serious all the time, and I think she’s just great.
While we’re talking about inspiration, what artists, musicians, or writers have stopped you in your tracks in their work? What’s the best thing you’ve seen or heard lately?
I would echo all of the people I’ve said above, and add Cam Awkward-Rich and Alain Ginsberg (not the “original” Alan Ginsberg) to the poetry train. I’ve also been 100% into this great band called Jane Doe and the Misery Loves Co. Trans riot folk punk is just about my favourite genre. As for visual art, Nick Harper has got a string around my heart lately, although I don’t know much about him as a person.
Of the millions of amazing things you’ve done and created, what are some of the things you’re the most proud of?
I would have to say my new book coming up, tentatively called “Spoiler: The Trans Kid Dies.” It’s a collection of poems and visual art about my experiences being a transgender rape survivor, especially since I feel like I’ve had very different treatment than many cis women survivors. There’s going to be a 30 page animation in the middle of the book, and I’ve been saving my menstrual blood for months!! I’m so excited to finish it this spring.
What’s next for you? Where can we find out more about your work or how to book you?
Well, I’m always touring, and you can find my schedule (or book me!) on my website, ollieschminkey.weebly.com. There’s also links to my visual art, music, poetry, workshop, and upcoming projects on there as well. Fo booking or other inquiries, simply fill out the form on the submission manager. I also have links for people to purchase my chapbook, “The Taste of Iron,” as well as the Well-Placed Commas chapbook and some custom-made t-shirts I hand printed. Say hello!
Supporting the artists we love or think are important is so, so, so important. Do you have anything to say on this matter, and are there any other ways we can show support for you?
I think I’ve mentioned most of my projects, but if you’ve still got money left over, donate to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project or the Trans Latin@ Coalition. Buy a book from Topside Press. Read up on trans issues, and find ways to support trans people; trans people and our art are still hugely undervalued in our society, and we’ve got to change that together.