Catching up with spoken word poet Andrea Gibson
"My heaviest poems are my most hopeful poems"
Andrea Gibson. Photography by Coco Aramaki
“Do you want to hear the best story you’ve ever heard in your life?” Andrea Gibson asks into the microphone. The audience leans forward in silent anticipation. “So I met this woman and I went home to her house with her.” They pause. “Already a great story, eh?” Here at DIVA, we have to agree.
With a career in poetry spanning almost twenty years (beginning in 1999 with a break-up poem at an open mic night in Boulder, Colorado), Andrea Gibson made the move to spoken word poetry ten years ago, when they won the first Woman Of The World Poetry Slam.
Author of three collections of poetry, and currently working on an illustrated collection of quotes due out later this year, Andrea - who uses they/them pronouns - is one of the most celebrated poets in north America, and best of all? They're coming to London on tour in June 2018.
Whether their poetry is de-stigmatising mental illness, encouraging people to stay alive, bringing visibility to queer relationships, or inspiring activism that dismantles patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy, Andrea's newest work Hey Galaxy feels brave and most of all, exciting.
Here, Danielle Mustarde caught up with Andrea to find out a little more about their life in words...
DIVA: For someone who's unfamiliar with your poetry, how would you describe it?
Andrea Gibson: I’m a spoken word poet. I write poems to be spoken out loud, or screamed out loud, or sobbed out loud, or laughed out loud. I believe that even when the truth isn’t hopeful the telling of it is, so I often write poems that are difficult for me to write, poems that pull the grief in me to the surface. My work doesn’t shy away from darkness but like many artists it's important to me to never abandon beauty in the process. I rarely take my eye off of possibility. My heaviest poems are my most hopeful poems.
When did you first begin to write poetry, or rather, when did you first start calling your work "poetry"?
I’ve written since I was very young, though as a child I much preferred climbing a tree or riding a skateboard over reading a book. College was the first time I started writing poems consistently and a few years after that I discovered poetry slam and fell forever in love with the art form. At that point everything in my world shifted, everything around me was a poem waiting to be told.
Did you have an inkling as a child that words would become such a significant part of your life?
As a teenager I had a strong sense that art would be a large part of my adult life, though I assumed I’d be a painter. I was really into drawing and painting up until my mid twenties but when I fell in love with poetry, it took over. I’d lock myself in a room for 12 hours a day and write and write and write. That’s still the way I write today, hours and hours spent pacing a room talking to myself out loud until a line becomes a line.
How has your poetry changed since that first performance in 1999?
One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed is that in my early writing I was really invested in certainty and rightness and expressing what I knew. Now I’m more interested in curiosity, wonder and exploration. I learn a lot from disagreeing with myself and I disagree with myself more than anyone I know. That debate in my heart nourishes my aliveness, keeps me excavating the truth, which is never a fully found truth. The truth, after all, is infinite - there is always more of it to know.
How does your queerness weave into your work?
The question could just as well be, “How do you weave poetry into your queerness?” The two are so connected for me that I wonder if I would be a poet if I weren’t queer. I think there’s a chance I would not be. I write to uncover myself and I write to connect with my community, and I write in hopes of dismantling the boxes that suffocate our becoming. Every poem I have written in my life is a queer poem.
What's your favourite piece of work to perform?
I write a lot of poems that hurt to read out loud so my favorite pieces to perform are the ridiculously happy poems or the hilariously absurd poems that lighten me and remind me to be easy with myself and world around me. Lately I’ve been reading a poem called FIGHT FOR LOVE, which is a funny love poem that discusses the arguments I’ve gotten in with my girlfriend. Every show I can’t wait for the moment I get to lighten up and read it.
What would you say to other queer women out there who write in one way or another?
I’d say write your heart out, and write your heart in, and write for the love of it, and write with a tenderness towards your own story and a willingness to learn along the way, and be brave enough to write things that no one will love but you, and never put your pen down without having written at least one line you were terrified to write.
Andrea's tour kicks off at the end of May with four dates in the United Kingdom, 30 May in Edinburgh, 1 June in London, 2 June in Manchester, and 4 June in Brighton. To buy tickets check out Andrea's website at andreagibson.org. Or follow them on Instagram @andrewgibby.
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