Just to be clear I don’t want to get out without a broken heart” – Royal Heart, by Andrea Gibson.
Andrea/Andrew Gibson has published six poetry collections and released seven albums. They have been giving life-affirming spoken word performances for two decades. A winner of multiple state, national and global slam poetry championships (first winner Women of The World Poetry Slam, four-time winner Denver Grand Slam, finalist of National and World Poetry Slams), their work exploring LGBTQ issues and gender identity has been hugely influential in poetry and activism on a global scale.
Andrea, currently on tour in the U.S. conversed in between shows to The Demented Goddess’ Caoimhe Lavelle, a poet, spoken word performer & DJ. Andrea is appearing in the U.K in May,
The Demented Goddess: Your poetry bursts with love for life itself with all the painful feeling that comes with it; a love which summons the strength to continue. In “A Letter to my Dog” one finds a deep, soulful appreciation of the life force connecting all creatures. What is the relationship between your cultivation of love and your writing?
Your question reminds me of something I was told when my first dog passed away. A friend said, “One of the most loving things a human will do in their lifetime is to become family with beings who they know have a much shorter lifespan than their own.” To love an animal is an almost promised grief, and still it is a grief humans choose over and over— and how can we not love each other for that?
In my writing, it is important to me to enter each poem from a point of love. Even if it is a very dark poem, I want it to be continually touching back to the light. There is, after all, nothing we are writing about besides love. Writing about grief is writing about love. Writing about fear is writing about love. Writing about despair is writing about love. If I weren’t in touch with that I don’t think I would have much interest at all in poetry.
DG: Slam Poetry today is rich with the voices of LGBTQI performers voicing their experiences and journeys of gender. How queer-driven did you find the spoken word scene as you first came to it and how did it mobilize you?
When I started attending poetry slams the community was not nearly as queer as it is now, but it was still a more welcoming and celebratory space than any other I had encountered at the time. I generally felt supported by poets and audiences to express my queerness out loud and that was new to me.
What that did to my life was shift my expectations of the world. What I had accepted in regards to homophobia before discovering slam became much less acceptable to me. Being welcomed helped me more accurately point to the places where that welcome didn’t exist, and needed inspiration to change. I think of this period as the loudest time in my life. I was roaring queerness, screaming off a lifetime of silence.
DG: Political activism is the beating heart of spoken word, not merely as platform for a manifesto but also as radical empathy; a space where the abstract political becomes flesh and blood, where outrage turns to threefold healing in writing, performance and connection. What do you find most powerful about spoken word?
There are a few things that I find exceptional about the art form. I’m in love with the fact that spoken word uses intimacy, honesty, and vulnerability to speak to issues that impact our entire planet. It’s the most powerful place to create change from.
There are stories I am willing to tell on stage that I would never be comfortable speaking in conversations with even my closest friends. Spoken word offers me the sense of being held by the universe, and a reassurance that the truth being told is not just individually, but culturally healing. To attend a slam or spoken word event is an intimate experience even when the poems are rally cries. In witnessing the story of one person’s life, we begin to grow increases compassion for the whole.
DG: In interviews you mention “learning” your non-binary gender through writing. And in ‘Your Life’, for example, you write “Your pronouns haven’t even been invented yet”.
Your work revisits trauma, playground bullying, naming yourself “Andrew” and the feeling of non-belonging created by a rigid gender binary. What can we learn about gender from our younger selves?
A lot! Though I didn’t have language for it, I knew so much more about my own gender when I was a child than I did in early adulthood. It took me years of writing to begin to crawl out of the stack of lies that society had piled on top of me to hide me from myself.
When I finally discovered the word “genderqueer”, I felt as if I’d finally been given language for something I knew when I was seven years old, but couldn’t name. I feel wildly grateful for poetry because the more language I have the more easily I can tap into my own never-ending becoming. Each poem I write about gender journey reveals more to me about who I am and who the world is. I don’t write to talk about what I have learned. I write to learn.
Andrea is currently touring the US with their latest collection “Lord Of The Butterflies”. Andrea tours the UK from May 12th-23rd. “Lord of The Butterflies” is available now from Button Poetry, Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble and Amazon and Andrea’s book “How Poetry Can Change Your Heart” co-authored by Megan Falley and published by Chronicle Books, can be pre-ordered via their website: https://www.andreagibson.org
Andrea Gibson was speaking to Caoimhe Lavelle.
Twitter: @andreagibson, @kwoovo
Main photo, Taylor Brown; all other photography Coco Aramaki.