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“Do you want to hear the best story you’ve ever heard in your life?” Andrea Gibson asks into the microphone. The audience leans forward in silent anticipation. “So I met this woman and I went home to her house with her.” She pauses, “already a great story.” The audience erupts with laughter, a happy juxtaposition after being so quietly captivated. Smirking into the spotlight, Andrea continues, “…So we’re about to kiss for the very first time. And right before our lips touch, she jumps from the bed, runs to the closet and grabs a stethoscope, puts the ear thingies in my ears and slides the knob down her shirt onto her heart and says, ‘I want you to listen to my heart speed up when you kiss me.’ And I kissed her! And her heart got faster and faster y’all.” By this point the room itself almost feels like a stethoscope pumping with the galloping hearts of the fans. “Moral of the story, buy a stethoscope,” Gibson says, and there’s that laughter again, followed by music, and they launch into a love poem – with the members of the audience mouthing along.
You’re not alone if when you hear, “poetry show” and don’t envision a scene like this. But then chances are you’ve never seen Andrea Gibson perform live.
One of the most celebrated and successful poets in the field began their career in 1999 with a break-up poem at an open mic in Boulder, Colorado. Gibson then leaped into the forefront of spoken word poetry on the national scene in 2008 when they won the first ever Woman of the World Poetry Slam. Author of three collections of poetry and currently working on an illustrated collection of their most memorable quotes for Penguin (Winter 2018), Andrea (they/them/their) has also released seven (7) full-length albums.
The most recent album, HEY GALAXY (Fall 2017) was created in the midst of another project as a result of the current political upheaval in the United States. Gibson was working on an album entirely about love, accompanied by an orchestra, but after the 2016 presidential election they felt moved to put forth a more social justice-oriented project. “There’s a quote that says, ‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’ I wanted to do that. I wanted to make something political and human and gutsy in its revolt. Something beautiful in its sweetness and rage and vulnerability. Something loud and tender at the same time.”
HEY GALAXY does just that. The sixteen poems on the album tell the story of our times. Whether it’s “Orlando,” which brutally relives the massacre at at LGBTQ nightclub and Gibson’s own struggles with coming out, or “A Letter to White Queers, A Letter to Myself,” which combats white privilege during the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Gibson’s poems awaken us with their urgency, honesty, and their lyrical meld of grit and beauty.
HEY GALAXY was written in heartbreak, in heart-mend, in love, in trauma, and in healing. In “Angels of the Get Through” a track written for Gibson’s best friend they plead, “You keep worrying you’re taking up too much space. I wish you’d let yourself be the Milky Way.” Elegant acoustic guitar behind their words helps dedicate and identify this poem to anyone going through a difficult time.
Musical collaborations both on Andrea’s albums and at their live shows are certainly unique to spoken word, but because Gibson has always written while listening to music, the incorporation of violins, acoustic guitar, and backing tracks felt natural on HEY GALAXY. “I always prefer making art with other people. I was thrilled to work with a lot of talented folks on this record and I’m looking forward to touring with them around the country.” HEY GALAXY features the work of Jesse Thomas, Andrew Joslyn, Chris Pureka and Bryan Wagstaff (who also produced + mixed the record) to name a few. Said Gibson, “I like to work with artists who inspire me into fuller expression, who help pull the bravest story out of me.”
Whether their art is de-stigmatizing mental illness, encouraging people to stay alive, bringing visibility to queer relationships, or inspiring activism that dismantles patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy HEY GALAXY does feel brave. On stage at packed clubs and theaters around the globe, Andrea will often announce that their biggest fear is public speaking or matter-of-factly announce that they are having a panic attack in the middle of their performance. This attitude might seem strange during a traditional show, but feels right at home here. The vulnerability of Andrea’s honesty makes the audience feel welcome as they are, which brings them back to Andrea Gibson shows time and time again.
Along with their books, albums, and posters, you will find a t-shirt on Andrea’s merchandise table featuring an upside-down umbrella and text that reads, “Feelings Are Not the Enemy.” Each night, this shirt flies off the merch table and hundreds of fans wait in line to get them signed.
Gibson finishes a poem and notices someone donning a shirt out in the audience. They shield their eyes from the spotlight and look at the person and smile. “You know, sometimes I take a Sharpie and cross out those words on my own t-shirt. Sometimes feelings really ARE the enemy,” and there’s that laughter from the audience again as they settle in for another poem, mouthing the words, feeling a little less alone.