by Ami Maxine Irmen
First things first: Gibson’s pronouns are them/them/theirs.
Second, they note that the best writing advice they’ve ever received was to “write what you are terrified to write.” Upon knowing this, the content into which they repeatedly dive makes complete sense. The honesty with which they explore it? Well, that is not something that can be taught – but it sure can be admired.
Finally, while best known as a performance poet, Andrea Gibson’s work also lives passionately on the page. They currently have four collections poetry:
Gibson’s first book, which came out in 2008, contains many poems one can see them perform on stage, as well as those that exist solely on these pages. Whether you know Gibson’s voice or not, you will be able to hear these poems as they speak to you – about everything from the curious and open minds of children to watching a friend attempting to survive their assault to marriage equality. Author Buddy Wakefield states that “Gibson does not just show up to pluck your heart strings, [they] stick around to tune them” – and I could not agree more. While the topics may tear you open, Gibson’s handling of them will make you also feel supported and seen and cared for, will make you feel a little less alone. (Fun Fact: Gibson’s poem “Say Yes” from this collection was read in lieu of morning prayer at the Utah State Legislature on April 14, 2010.)
I remember pre-ordering this book – and then forgetting that I had done so. When it showed up in my mailbox, I immediately sat down and devoured it – and it wrecked me in the best way possible. If you thought Gibson’s first collection was open and honest, their sophomore collection will prove how much more Gibson has to offer. This honesty is turned even more inward as the opening poem (which shares the book’s title but is often performed as “The Nutritionist”) dives right into Gibson’s journey as an openly gay youth, including their own depression and suicidal ideation. These poems once again have a wide range – from playgrounds to falling in love to loneliness. Gibson lays down a welcome mat to their life, their journey, their hurt, their triumph – and then hands all of us a rally cry, asking us to put it to use. The poet Sonya Renee notes that these poems “remind us that the world will keep spinning if we all just push a little.”
With Pansy, Gibson teaches us how to learn. They willingly put on display their own ignorance – taking the lessons handed to them with grace. Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Want to witness a roadmap on how to put this idea into action? Look no further. In this collection, Gibson tackles topics such as the human condition, asking white queer individuals to do better for queer people of color, race and class privilege, and so much more – with continued honesty and humility. “Gibson is becoming bolder in addressing the topics they’ve always been passionate about,” states Doe Parker from Columbia Poetry Review. “This collection never backs away from those topics and still admits to being human and imperfect in handling them.”
For their fourth collection, Gibson chose to work with Button Poetry, a publisher whose model they have admired “for quite a while, specifically because of how many youth have fallen in love with poetry because of them.” The change in publisher, though, does not mean a change in who Gibson is or what their poetry accomplishes. Gibson notes, “[T]he first poems [in this collection] were sparked by the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and others by the election. Like many writers, I’ve never in my life created so much as I have in response to our current political climate. I actually had to contact the editor several times to see if I could add one more poem to the book, as I was writing so much up until the final due date.” Written over the course of two years, “[e]ach emotion…is deft and delicate, resting inside of imagery heavy enough to sink the heart, while giving the body wings to soar.” In other words, Gibson is still Gibson – and with the constantly changing world, they still have much to say. As for us, we still have much to hear.
As though publishing four collections in ten years isn’t impressive enough, Gibson also has five spoken word albums (When the Bough Breaks, Truce, Yellowbird, Flower Boy, and Hey Galaxy), a pocket book, and a movement called Stay Here With Me, “an interactive, safe space offering collective support while encouraging individual healing to keep those who visit alive today, and wanting to stay alive until tomorrow.” In a few days, their book How Can Poetry Change Your Heart, written with their partner Megan Falley, will set out to prove that poetry is for everyone. It is a dream of theirs to one day write a musical.
Make sure to secure your tickets (General Admission is FREE; priority seating is $30) to see Gibson at the Tarlton Theatre on Saturday, April 27. Doors open at 5 p.m.; show is at 6 p.m.