By Raina Rue
Hailing from Colorado, queer and proud poet Andrea Gibson has been making her mark on the performance poetry world since 2000, when she competed successfully with the Denver Slam Team at The National Poetry Slam in Providence, Rhode Island. After winning the Denver Grand Slam Championship four times, Gibson placed fourth at the 2004 National Poetry Slam, and finished third at both the 2006 and 2007 Individual World Poetry Slam. Gibson became the first performance poet ever to win the Women of the World Poetry Slam.
Gibson’s poems cover a variety of contentious subjects, such as gender norms, capitalism, the war in Iraq and civil rights. Equally as serious, but not as controversial, many of her poems are sweetly endearing odes to love, and some are cathartic laments of love lost.
This groundbreaking artist recently shared e-mail correspondence with The Progress before the tour for her newest album, “Yellowbird,” makes a stop on campus later this month.
EP: When you first started writing, did you know that you wanted to do spoken word, or was it a gradual shift from just written to performance poetry?
AG: I was writing for years before I had even heard of spoken word. It’s while writing that I feel most connected to the pulse of why we’re here. It’s where I feel most alive.I was 23 the first time I heard spoken word performed live. It rocked me. But I had terrible stage fright and had never been on a stage before because of it. Eventually I was able to convince myself to get up there.That first night my hands shook so hard I almost dropped the notebook I was holding.Still today, my hands shake just as hard. I never read off paper because of it.Nothing scares me more than performing.
EP: Have you ever dealt with haters or hecklers at a show?
AG: Yes.Not nearly as much as I would have liked, though. I would love it if more people heard my poems who disagree with what I’m saying.After all, that’s whom I’m writing a lot of them for.But as far as haters. my worst experience was a man rushing the stage screaming, “You fucking faggot.”That wasn’t fun.
EP: Writing-wise, who are your favorites/inspirations?
AG: Buddy Wakefield.Derrick Brown.Shira Erlichman.Mary Oliver.Toni Morrison. Ken Arkind. Hundreds more.
EP: Music, other than Chris Pureka and the other wonderful musicians featured on “Yellowbird,” who are your favorites? What do you listen to when you write?
AG: Shira Erlichman is also a songwriter.I love her music.Gregory Alan Isacov, a local musician out of Colorado.Radiohead.Nicole Reynolds.
EP: Do you specifically relate to college-level kids, or do you kind of look at schools as just another gig at just another venue?
AG: I love performing at colleges and universities.I went to school at a very conservative catholic college.Nearly every teacher I had was a nun or a monk.I’m not joking.Nobody I knew was talking about anything that students I meet are talking about.I get really excited to be a part of the kind of conversations that happen during my visits to universities.My favorite is when I get invited to perform at a college I applied to and wasn’t accepted to.Also performing at schools that I wouldn’t have even bothered applying to.Harvard was a trip.
EP: You speak a lot about the war and our soldiers overseas-what experiences have made you so passionate about this subject?
AG: There are a lot of veterans in my family. I remember being very young, flipping through the photographs my father had taken in Vietnam.After 9/11 I got involved in the anti-war movement.I met soldiers who turned my head inside out with their stories. They occupy a huge part of my heart.
EP: Have you always been such a hopeless romantic?
AG: I’ve not always been such a romantic.I spent a lot of my life stubborn and closed. Then one day I met someone who cracked me open. And I liked the cracks. Everyone looks better with some ruin in their step.
EP: When you first began sharing your work, who was your audience? Were your friends and family supportive in getting your work “out there?”
AG: My audience was the Denver Poetry Slam. My friends were incredibly supportive. My best friend is the reason I was able to take the leap and try to make a living out of spoken word. My family still struggles with how much I say the “F word.”But they’re coming around.
EP: Tell me a bit about your first real gig.
AG: My first real gig was in NYC. I got invited to be the feature reader at the Bowery Poetry Club. They said they’d pay me $100 if I’d come.I was so excited to get offered a “gig,” I spent $250 on a plane ticket to fly from Colorado to New York to do that one show. It was perfect.
EP: Weirdest experience at a show/with a fan?
AG: The time I was performing at an elementary school and a woman came up after my performance and asked me to sign her boob.
EP: So many of your poems are heartwrenching for fans to hear and must be difficult for you to perform at time. Have you ever gotten so emotional that you had to stop in the middle of a piece?
AG: I’ve never gotten so emotional that I’ve had to stop, no. But I’ve come very close.
EP: Have you ever been to Kentucky? Any thoughts/fears/questions about the Bluegrass?
AG: I have never ever been to Kentucky and I’ve been touring so long there are very few states I haven’t been to.I am super excited and I got huge hugs for everyone who put work into making the show happen!Yay!