by Maya Brown
Andrea Gibson is a feminist spoken word artist and activist. Her poems explore gender norms and identity, bullying, war, class, race, and other subjects. I first head about Andrea Gibson when we watched one of her poems in my high school’s Gay Straight Trans Alliance, and I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever since. I was so excited to get the chance to interview her, especially in the middle of her tour. She’s such a role model for me, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to see one of her live shows soon! Andrea has written two books and five albums of poetry.
What drew you to spoken word? What or who was your first poem about?
I discovered spoken word for the first time at a poetry slam in Denver, Co. I was immediately flooded with a feeling of, “This is what I want to DO!” I was inspired by the sincerity, the aliveness, the honesty, and fact that so many of the poems were written with the hopes of creating a more peaceful world. The first spoken word piece I ever wrote was about how difficult it was coming out to my family.
What makes you want to write? How do you decide on the topic of a poem?
I don’t know what makes me want to write. I just know I don’t feel quite like myself when I’m not writing. It’s the one place where the world makes more sense to me. It’s where I feel the most turmoil, but also the most peace. It’s the one place I look my life straight in the eye. I decide on a topic of a poem by whatever topic I’m currently finding impossible to stay quiet about.
What do you think makes spoken word so powerful?
The connection between the performer and the audience. The possibility that exists in that much transparency. The telling of a story out loud, the vibration of a spoken story. The aliveness. The anger. The faith. The sincerity. The climbing out of the grief. The refusal to be silent.
You define yourself on your website as an activist, what does activism mean to you? How do you see spoken word as a form of activism?
I have spent the last decade working with Vox Feminista, a performance group of radical artists and activists bent on social justice. Vox’s motto is “To comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” I consider that every time I write a poem, and I consider that in my daily life. The year I discovered spoken word was the year I participated in my first political action, and perhaps that’s why the two have always been intertwined for me. In a culture full of so much destruction, creativity is in itself activism. That said, I’m aware when I’m writing that more is needed than our words.
In an interview with Autostraddle you mentioned that one of the things that keeps you up at night is the world’s treatment of women. Can you say what you mean by that?
I mean the world treats women terribly. I mean it is sometimes something I can not always look at without falling in on myself. I mean there are days I struggle to stay hopeful. And there are days I don’t. I mean there is so much to do, right now as I am typing this, there is so much to do, and I am often in an argument with Time. I mean we can change things. I mean there is so much possibility. I mean we are so capable. I mean all of that presses in on me, as it presses in on many of us, and it makes it difficult to want to rest.
How does your feminism impact your work? What does being a feminist mean to you?
Feminism is in every single line I have ever written. It’s the pulse of why I can’t not speak up. It’s why staying silent would bury me. I can’t put into words what feminism means to me without writing a novel. Twenty novels. The word “Celebration” would title a number of those chapters. What would the world look like if everyone of us were celebrated?
Some of the actions we’ve done at SPARK call attention to how stereotyped “girls” and “boys” toys are for children, so your poem “Andrew” really resonated with me–like the line “Tell Barbie she can go now/ Tell G.I. Joe to put his gun down and find a boyfriend.” Could you tell me a little bit about what inspired you to write that poem?
Everyone deserves to name themselves. Everyone deserves to define who they are. Everyone deserves to live outside of definition… if they choose. Every second I am alive I am changing. The idea that we are all constantly becoming…that’s what inspires me. My growing up life was full of restriction. I want to make art that is expansive and awake with possibility. I want to live in my body that way, live in my gender that way, live in my heart that way….opening all the windows.
I found your poem “Blue Blanket” recently, and was struck by how powerful the line “Tonight she’s not asking you/ What you’re going to tell your daughter/She’s asking/What you’re going to teach your son,” could you tell me some more about this poem and why you wrote it?
When I started writing “Blue Blanket” I had one idea in my mind, “If I had a son, what would I want to teach him?” Before I started writing I honestly thought I was going to write a somewhat sweet instructional poem. If you’re familiar with the poem you know something much different came out. I’m yet to write a poem that quickly in my life. It was definitely something I needed to write for my own personal healing, and also something I had to speak out loud into the ears of culture. In a nutshell….I want men to take active immediate responsibility for stopping rape.
Do you have a poem (either one of yours or otherwise) you think every girl should read?
For Young Women Who Don’t Consider Themselves Feminists, by Mindy Nettifee.
What advice would you give to an aspiring girl activist or spoken word artist?
Make room to feel IT ALL. Feel you grief, you joy, your wonder, your light, your dark, your fear, your hope, your falling, your love, your rage, your patience, your panic….all of it. Let it all be the fuel that creates your amazing life and your amazing work.
What would you say to a girl, or anyone, who is afraid that what they have to say won’t be heard?
Don’t push away that fear. Let it exist. Let the fear be part of your story. Make room for it so it never gets in the way of you raising your voice. We are all terrified of not being heard. We are all terrified. And we all have something to say that could save someone’s life.
One last question, I’ve heard from reliable sources that your dog, Squash, travels with you when you’re on tour. How does she like the traveling poet’s life? Any funny stories?
Squash is a 9-pound terrier rescue from a shelter in Denver. She is also my beating heart with fur and legs. She likes to wear baby onsies with trucks on them and she is a master traveler. Her favorite part of the day is coming out to the merch table after each show to get snuggles from all the people. That said, I’m fairly certain she’s not a fan of poetry. She lays down at the sound booth and sleeps through all of my shows.
To find out more information about Andrea’s current tour, click here.