Spoken word poet Andrea Gibson talks about stage fright, feminism

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In her 15 years as a spoken word poet, Andrea Gibson has released five albums and two books and is the first winner of the Women’s World Poetry Slam. But her achievements are minute compared to the gravity of her poetry, which focuses on heavy topics such as gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality and, inevitably, love. In an email interview with The Daily Californian, Gibson spoke about stage fright, feminism and her poetic influences.

The Daily Californian: How old were you when you first discovered spoken word?

Andrea Gibson: 24.

DC: What did you picture yourself doing before poetry came into your life?

AG: I thought I’d be a painter, or possibly a gardener, or possibly a social worker, and prior to all of that I thought I’d be the first female-bodied person in the NBA.

DC: You said in a previous interview that your two biggest fears are public speaking and crowds. Did performing your poems in front of people feel unnatural at first? Do you love it now, or do you still feel nervous?

AG: It felt unnatural at first and it still feels unnatural in the sense that I know a natural performer when I see one and I know for certain I am not a natural performer. What that means for me is I find it difficult to gather a normal amount of air into my lungs until at least halfway through a show and I probably cry more often on stage that most audiences would register as “professional” but fuck professional. Yes, I love it, and that mostly means I love the people who attend the shows, truly love them, and I love poetry and feel immensely and constantly grateful that I have the privilege to be doing this with my life.

DC: You often use music to compliment your poetry. Did that connection come naturally? Where do you usually get your music from? Are there any musicians that you regularly collaborate with?

AG: I have so many musician friends that it just felt like more fun to be collaborating. I always prefer to collaborate. I love making art with people. I’ve collaborated with Chris Pureka probably more than any other musician, but I’m always looking for other artists to make something fierce with.

DC: When did you realize you were a feminist?

AG: I think I was 8 years old and someone told me a girl couldn’t grow up to be the Pope.

DC: How do the people you meet on tour inspire or influence your poetry?

AG: So many of the people I meet on the road are incredibly open-hearted and transparent about what they’re feeling and it’s so inspiring to witness and interact with. I often spend as much time talking with people after my performances as I do on stage and I cherish that time and gain a lot of energy from it. People are doing stunning things in this world. I need and want and crave being reminded of that on a daily basis.

DC: As an activist, what are your views on the sexual assault issues and reforms related to college campuses?

AG: I envision a lot more dialogue, a lot more honest conversation about rape culture, a lot more mandatory trainings in which students are actually educated on “consent.” I think the “Yes Means Yes” bill is great.  Additionally, I specifically want men to step up and take responsibility for educating other men about how they’re perpetuating a culture of violence. There is so much to do. Sexual assault is the one topic I’ve not been able to stop screaming about since I started writing years ago.

Gibson will be performing tonight at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center and Friday at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco.

Contact Rosemarie Alejandrino at [email protected].