If there is one common message throughout Andrea Gibson’s work, it’s this: feel.
Andrea Gibson is many things. They are a world-renowned poet, a leader in the spoken word movement, a fierce activist, a proud feminist, a dog lover, and they’re afraid. They’re afraid just like the rest of us, but are unwilling to let fear silence their heart and I think that is the most courageous thing that anyone could be.
Gibson, who will visit St. John’s next Monday to share and perform at the Memorial University Students’ Union bar The Breezeway, recently spoke with The Independent by email.
Interview with Andrea Gibson
SAMANTHA FITZPATRICK: Have you ever been to Newfoundland & Labrador? If not, do you have any expectations?
ANDREA GIBSON: I have never been and have always wanted to visit. I’m excited. I have an image of the area that is very beautiful and also quite cold in November. I’m bringing a warm coat and earmuffs and a camera.
SF: Do you like to do anything “touristy” while you’re on the road?
AG: I more enjoy exploring whatever nature I can find in a place. If it’s a big city, I visit the parks. Not sure if that’s touristy or not, but it helps me stay healthy, and keep a clear lens on gratitude.
SF: You identify as an activist and a poet. Aside from using poetry as a form of activism, do you think the two have anything in common?
AG: We live in a destructive culture, and a culture that doesn’t often tell the truth. So I believe speaking the truth is peace work. And I believe creating art is in itself peace work. And activism, is most definitely creative.
SF: You’ve often said that for poetry to be a useful form of activism it needs to inspire direct action. Have you ever been involved in the kind of direct action you talk about?
AG: Yes. Protests, rallies, peace marches, body blockades, running from teargas, dragging my peace sign home in the snow crying, all of it. But I think it’s important to note that direct action can also look like showing up for a friend who doesn’t like she can keep living. Direct action can also look like speaking up when it is scary to speak up. Direct action can also look like asking someone which pronouns they use.
SF: The bio given on your website claims that fearlessness has propelled you “to the forefront of the spoken word movement.” Are you ever afraid?
AG: Oh wow. I should change that on my website. I do not consider myself a fearless person. I consider myself a person who is very often afraid, very often anxious, and very often panicked. But I try as best as I can to not let the fear silence my heart.
Over the years the weight of remaining silent has become heavier. I think probably because I’m being more honest with myself. — Andrea Gibson
SF: A lot of your poetry deals with topics that many may find controversial. Has the experience of speaking up about controversial subjects changed for you over the years?
AG: Over the years I have become more willing to speak up when I’m terrified, to speak up in spaces that don’t necessary feel safe. Over the years the weight of remaining silent has become heavier. I think probably because I’m being more honest with myself.
SF: I know you’ve been greatly influenced by Vox Feminista’s [LINK] motto “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” Was there ever anything you wouldn’t talk about? Is there anything you’re uncomfortable talking about now?
AG: There was a long time I wasn’t willing to talk about my experience living with a chronic illness. I carried a lot of shame around that for a number of years. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have gained enough confidence in myself to comfortably be that vulnerable on stage.
SF: In a past interview, when speaking about your poem “Blue Blanket” you said you had intended it to be a “sweet instructional poem” to an imaginary son, but it wound up being “something much different,” something much more frustrated and maybe even a little angry. What are your thoughts on anger as a response to injustice?
AG: I think anger is a very necessary emotion in healing. Personal and cultural healing. I think to name it is to tell the truth, and the truth is medicine. I also don’t think of it as separate or in opposition to love. That said, when i think of anger in regards to my activism, I need it as a jumping off point, as fuel, but I very rarely land there, I hardly ever create from a place of rage.
SF: In “Asking Too Much” the speaker asks, “Do you think that anger is a sincere emotion/ or just the timid motion of a fragile heart trying to beat away its pain?” How would you answer that question?
AG: I think anger in itself is a sincere emotion. That said, I think it can often feel like a more powerful emotion than say grief or sadness. So when we are sad we may often choose anger instead, as an easier route through the pain.
SF: In an interview with Sabrina Melendez in Parallax Online, you said you think in feelings. Can you describe what this means to you?
AG: No. I don’t think I can. Maybe if I thought in thoughts I could.. … 🙂 I hope that isn’t an asshole answer, but I tried to answer it and couldn’t.
SF: Finally, your work is an inspiration to many people. Who inspires you?
AG: I am most inspired by people who are living congruent lives. Meaning, their ethics line up with their hearts line up with their commitments line up with their kindnesses towards the world line up with their kindnesses towards themselves.
Andrea Gibson will perform at Memorial University on Nov. 23. Event details can be found here, and you can learn more about Gibson and their work by visiting www.andreagibson.org. Currently, the St. John’s show is the only Canadian date on Gibson’s tour.