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Sappho of Slam: An Interview With Poet Andrea Gibson

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By Lucy Doyle

Queer yet timeless, romantic yet political, Andrea Gibson’s earliest poems are older than some of her fans. It’s easy to see this honest and verbose poet’s appeal, with subjects ranging from gender to mental health, intersectional politics, and broken hearts. Her words alone are impassioned enough to move even the toughest of lesbians to tears, but her real fire comes out in her breathless, cathartic slam performances. Whether winning awards as an artist, breaking ground as an activist, or patching the wounds of her adoring fans’ hearts through verse, Gibson (who will be in Houston this month) has somehow managed to maintain her starry-eyed wonder at romance and her optimism about love. I recently had a chance to talk Tumblr, twenty-somethings, and tandem bicycling with Andrea.

Lucy Doyle: Having started your poetry career in the early 2000s, what role has social media played in your art and your interactions with fans? What is the most meaningful way that your adoring fans in cyberspace can show their appreciation for your work?

Andrea Gibson: Social media has played a huge role in getting my poetry to the ears of many more people than would have found it otherwise. I think in general, social media has been a huge force in propelling the spoken word into what it is today. As for meaningful ways to show appreciation, anytime someone shares a piece I’ve written or a line from a piece, it is a huge compliment, and my hope is the pieces themselves can be of some service.

You were in your mid-20s when you first started writing some honest and painful poems. Yet twentysomethings have always been derided (but especially now) for being selfish and immature. Do you see magic in 20-year-olds?

Very much so. I am constantly inspired by and constantly learning from young people. The majority of the audience at most of my shows is made up of people in their early 20s, and I spend hours after each event getting my mind blown by the wisdom of people. I think many of us have a tendency to grow less vulnerable over time, but there is so much power in vulnerability and openness, and I see it most readily at that age.

You identify as both queer and feminist, but those two groups have had conflicts with each other in the past. From a queer perspective, what issues do you still see with feminism, and vice versa?  

This question is huge, and I’m not sure that I can speak to the issues as much as I can say I believe the answers and the healing are going to be found in intergenerational dialogue. I believe if those conversations were happening in authentic and compassionate ways, the problems would be much fewer.  

You have been very open about your mental-health and anxiety issues in the past, even collaborating to create your “Stay Here with Me” project. (As a side note, my girlfriend will completely soak herself in Pansy, your latest published collection, when she’s depressed.) What forms of self-care do you practice outside of writing?

Yoga. Meditating. Hiking with my perfect peanut of a puppy. Cooking. Dancing in my living room. Watching basketball. Riding my tandem bike—sometimes alone. Why does this sound like a singles ad? Long walks on the beach . . .

You were coming of age at the same time as the riot grrrl heyday in the ’90s. Did you interact with the community much at the time, or borrow any inspiration from the artists of
that era?
  

I found riot grrrl much later than I wish I had. And I had some interaction with the DC people just as it was quieting down—though I did open for Team Dresch once! I remember thinking, “I’m the least-cool person in this room.” It was pretty awesome.

Music plays a huge role in your performances. What musicians would you be most excited to collaborate with in the future?    

Too many to name, but I’d be thrilled to collaborate with Angel Haze someday.

You speak often about intersectionalism in interviews, poems, and performances. As we move closer to embracing intersectional identities, with transgenderism finally receiving some mainstream attention, who do you feel needs the most support right now?  

There are so many that need support. I’m not comfortable saying who I think needs the most, but I believe working to dismantle a white-supremacist system that is consistently and without consequence targeting black and brown people is primary. Trans women of color are specifically at such huge risk for violence that our inaction, at this point, is nothing other than murderous.

As a poet, people naturally assume that you’re something of a romantic. And as a queer performer, another assumption is that you’re something of a nonconforming badass. What are your feelings on the recent legalization of same-sex marriage?   

My politics and feelings about marriage have changed quite a bit over the years. I don’t love the amount of energy that has been put into marriage when there are so many other things that desperately need our attention. There’s also the important point that marriage itself is a privileging and unfair institution. And all of that said, I can’t deny that it made me smile when I heard that news, if only for it being an indicator of progress made, and hopefully a sign that the world is shifting toward a kinder lens.

Have you been to Texas before? How do our gayborhood vibes compare to all the other places you’ve been? And what’s the first thing you’d like to do when you get here?

I love Texas! I’ve been through Texas a ton throughout my years of touring, and I always have a blast. People are wild in Texas, and I’ve found that the queer community is particularly vibrant—maybe because of the conservatism [that surrounds them]? And the first thing I’d like to do: find some water to swim in.

Nina Diaz
Nina Diaz

What: Andrea Gibson
When: October 17
Where: Fitzgerald’s, 2706 White Oak Blvd.
Details: fitzgeraldshouston.com

FYI: Nina Diaz will also be appearing at Fitzgerald’s. Her performance is October 23.

Lucy Doyle is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.

 

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Lucy Doyle

Lucy Doyle is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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