Andrea Gibson is an award-winning poet and activist who lives in Boulder, Colorado. Their poetry focuses on gender norms, politics, social reform and the struggles LGBTQ people face in today's society. On top of using poetry to express what they feel and provide social and political commentary on real issues, they are involved with many activist groups. They often perform at Take Back the Night events, LGBTQ events, pride events, trans events, anti-war rallies, peace rallies, organizations against the occupation of Palestine, and groups focused on examining the wrongs of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy. They also work with a group called Vox Feminista whose model is to "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" on all these issues. Gibson grew up in Calais, Maine. They are the child of Mark and Shirley Gibson, and have one sister, Laura, whom they mention in their poem 'Titanic'. They grew up in a Baptist home. They attended Saint Joseph's College of Maine. Later, they moved to New Orleans with their girlfriend. In 1999, the two moved to Boulder, Colorado. They went to their first open-mic in Denver.
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I am Andrea Gibson. I’m a queer performance poet with panic attacks and extreme stage fright who has been touring full time for over decade. I was raised in the Baptist Church in a small town in the woods of northern Maine. I won the first Women’s World Poetry Slam, have released 6 albums, published two books, and in 2010 one of my poems was read in lieu of morning prayer by a house representative at the Utah State Legislature. I’m co-founder of “STAY HERE WITH ME” http://stayherewithme.com, an online community that uses art and shame-free discussions to aid in suicide prevention. I have a dog named Squash and she is my beating heart with fur and legs. Here is proof that it's me: https://app.box.com/s/p8i3lk0f7nw0w3013pjk
Update: Thank you so much for your questions. So wonderful sharing time with all of you! Take care of each other. love, a
Hey! How does it feel to know that you are studied in introductory Women's Studies classes at major universities?
I don't know why, but that just made me feel like crying as soon as I read that question. It lights up and warms my heart to hear that. Its such an honor.
I want to thank you so so much; I'm a huge fan of yours, and you really helped me through a deep depression earlier this year. There were days when I didn't want to live, but I would always end up listening to your albums "Truce" and "Flower Boy" on repeat, and that kept me going enough.
A few months ago, you performed in Redlands, California, and I talked to you before and after the show. You talked to me about college, life, and made me feel worth something. You even took a selfie with me and signed your albums for me - here's a picture to jog your memory. After the show, you gave me a hug and said that I helped make your welcome in Redlands special and that you hoped one day we could speak again. That truly made my life, and really gave me a lot of confidence and strength I didn't have before - it was a magical evening for me. Now, I'm very confident in my identity as a transgirl and am living life fully.
As for a few questions:
What is your creative process like while writing your poems?
What are your preferred pronouns? (I couldn't find any definitive sources online)
When anxiety strikes, what are your go-to methods to ease it?
edit: a word
thank you so much!
my creative process is really bizarre, i run around the house screaming at the walls, whispering things at the couches. I can never write insilece. Essentially, I get really fired up about something and I need to move the poem through my body. The words are the last part of the poem that I write, I know the emotion, the rhythm and the sound first.
When anxiety strikes, I often have a similar response as my writing process, I run around essentially vibrating and shaking and just trying to move the energy though. also, HUGS help a lot! i hug myself often. :) my preferred pronouns are they/their so much love to you!
You use "Andrew" instead of "Andrea" on some of your social networks. What pronouns do you prefer?
thank you so much for asking... I prefer they/their
What's a guilty pleasure of yours? And I'm talking seriously guilty, like you prefer cheesesteaks with Cheez Whiz.
I once spent an entire year eating only chocolate bars for breakfast
About a year ago, I started dating my girlfriend and I lied when she asked if I had heard of you. I spent that night listening to every single one of your albums so that I could talk about you on our second date. Still going strong - you're the best wing person ever ;)
You make reference to the moon quite a bit - I've noticed it especially in your love poems...what's the significance to you?
From my girlfriend: what do the two arm band tattoos mean?
You are one incredible human being and your work never ceases to shock, move, and inspire me. Thank you so much!
Can I add that to my bio?! You are amazing.
A funny story...when I was putting out my first book, my publisher wrote me and said I was essentially using the same words in every poem and rearranging them in a different order. So I had to go through all of the poems and delete at least half of the "moons". What's radder than the moon?
I do not keep secrets, clearly. All my poems are the revealing of all my secrets. but that's one thing only a couple of people know. I'll give you a hint though....the answer is in one of the poems I've written.
We've met a few times over the years but I'm sure after awhile many people say this and it becomes hard to remember the countless faces you've seen. There was one particular time in UW Bothell when I told you how you had saved my life and you hugged me so close and so dearly that I felt like crying. I'm sure you here it a lot, but you truly have had such an amazing impact on my life. For that I will always be thankful. I do have a few questions for you:
What keeps me going more than anything else, is the reminder that I'm not alone. So thank you for what you've said here.
The question about chronic illness is such a great question. What helps me the most is appreciating small things. So even on a day I maybe can't get out of bed, it's appreciating that Netflix exists, specifically, The Office.
The circle on my forearm is my favorite tattoo I have because I drank way too much coffee, drove to the tattoo place and told the guy to do anything he wanted. when he tattooed a circle on me, I hated it until a month later I ran into someone else with the exact same tattoo and they told me that for them, it was a symbol of gender fluidity.
I hope I can articulate this properly. As an artist in the public eye do you ever worry about presenting only one face to the world? As in, you are Andrea Gibson the poet and people love you as Andrea Gibson the poet, but as an individual you are of course much more complex to that. Is it ever scary for you to have your profession become your identity? And for people to love you so much for this thing you do, but not really know you authentically? Thanks so much.
Thats one of the best questions I've ever been asked, and it's actually something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I've been trying to come up with more ways to authentically represent who I am in my personal life, in my public life. meaning, I want them to be congruent. I want to know that I'm living in integrity, that I'm walking my talk.
Any advice for queer folks with conservative evangelical parents?
Thats a tough one.
hugs to you.
What I know is that it's super important to surround yourself with folks who celebrate and adore you for exactly who you are. To essentially create the family you want to have. That said, one of the hardest things I've ever gone through in my life was being estranged from my family after I came out. I thought for certain I had a family that would never come around, but they eventually did. I think mostly just to acknowledge the loss that you're feeling now, the fear and the grief, to honor it as part of you and to also honor the part of you that deserves to be loved and to live in the direction of that love.
Hey Andrea, thank you for being an amazing poet. Your words have inspired me to become a poet myself. Here's a couple of questions for you.
I absolutely love when folks cover my poems! It' a huge compliment and they often do it better than I do. One of the most special things in my career was watching a fifth grader read my poem "Say Yes".
Yes! Yes always! I don't think I've ever written a love poem without someone in mind/heart. Do people actually do that?!
About a month in bed feeling sorry for myself.
How do you manage your anxiety on stage?
I try to funnel the electric energy inside me through the emotion of the poem. So the anxiety that is vibrating moves into whatever emotions the poem is relaying. Also, I try to make eye contact with the folks in the audience.
Dear Andrea Gibson,
First of all, I'd like to thank you. Thank you so much. You've been a great inspiration to me and it's fair to say that you've helped me from not relapsing (I self-harm, unfortunately) several times and encouraged me to ask for help - I'm seeing a therapist now. Stayherewithme.com has helped me and a friend of mine more than I could ever imagine (we promised each other we'd stay here with each other and now I've got something to hold onto) and your poems are just so beautiful they help me forget about things. I'm thirteen years old and I'm from Belgium, but your poems have succesfully improved my English. Thanks for everything. I have two questions :
Is there any possibility you'll ever come to Belgium? (please, please come to Belgium)
Do you have any tips on how to stop cutting?
Okay, so I'm texting my manager right now and telling her we need to book a show in Belgium. I would love to come to Belgium, especially since you're there.
your second question is really hard for me to answer. I think, what has helped me the most, is to make room for all the feelings my body feels, and instead of trying to push them down, to just make a wider space inside of myself and give them permission to exist. I find the majority of my suffering comes from not wanting to be feeling the feelings that I'm feeling. I experience suffering as the holding in of pain and I suffer less the less I hold in.
Hey Andrea! "A Letter to my Dog Exploring the Human Condition" brings me to tears every time.
Can you share the story of how Squash came in to your life?
Ohhhhhhhh my god! I went to an animal rescue in Denver and I saw her and as soon as I saw her, I knew that we were soul mates. And then when I went to try to adopt her, they told me she was about to be adopted by another family. So of course I started bawling and ran out of the building and a woan chased me out of the building and took my phone number in case the other family fell through.
the next morning she called me (the woman, not squash) and we lived happily ever.
Hi Andrea! I've been to see you twice, both times in Kalamazoo, MI. The first time I saw you, I experienced one of the coolest moments of my life. After you finished "Ashes", not one single person in the packed auditorium clapped. After a moment of silent communion, you said "Thank you for not clapping." I was wondering if that has ever happened before, or if it's a common thing, or not? Because the second time I saw you, people clapped. And on youtube they clapped. But at that moment it just seemed wrong, and it took my breath away that one person could have clapped and ruined it, but no one did.
I think I'm going to finish on this question because that was such a sacred moment to me. I felt so enormously grateful to that audience. It has happened a few times after reading Ashes, that no one clapped, but only a few times. I wish that was always the case. I think culturally we don't give ourselves permission to be silent when our hearts ask us to be silent.
(From my girlfriend) Hi Andrea! HUGE fan! I'm just really curious as to how you began doing spoken word. What were your influences?
Also, what is your Meyers-Briggs?
I got my heart crushed in 1999. Prior to that I never thought I would get on stage, I have really extreme stage fright. But when you get broken up with, the cracks in your heart can open you and make you braver.
Hey! I awkwardly (and accidentally) touched your butt once and we took a photo of me on my knees holding into your legs. Do you remember me? Also, thank you for being you. You are such an amazing and inspiring person.
I never forget a person who touches my butt.
Just as a preface to my questions, I wanted to let you know that your poem “I Do” introduced me to the world of spoken word, a world that has completely changed my life. You are my “gateway poet” so to speak, and I will never be able to thank you enough for your incredibly transformative words.
Okay, questions! What is the most difficult poem you’ve ever had to write? What is the easiest poem you’ve ever had to write, one that just “flowed through the pen?”
In poems like “Enough,” your words are incredibly inspirational. I’m not sure if I’m phrasing this question clearly, but do you feel inspirational when you write poems like this? In other words, did you write that poem from a place of happiness and giving, or did you write it to feel more inspired?
The most difficult poem I've written is "And Insider's Guide On How To Be Sick". I had so much shame around living with an illness for so long and coming out as a person living with an illness is one of the most difficult closets I've come out of.
I wouldn't say "Blue Blanket" was the easiest, but it came out after than any other poem I've ever written. I wrote it in less than an hour. In terms of easy poems, love poems are always the easiest for me. If I could spend the rest of my life writing only love poems, I sure would...unfortunately, the world is a mess.
Great question--- I often write my most "inspirational" poems when I'm in a relatively dark place. I rarely write where I am, I often write where i want to be and then try to live in the direction of the poem.
I can get behind that, but as a writer doesn't it bother you to use a plural to refer to a singular?
edit: NOT against it. Not trying to be insensitive. I didn't realize there was such a big existing pronoun argument and I was just asking a question.
no, not one single bit.
Okay, I'm going to do my best to not get too star-struck here but anyway... ^will^^you^^^marry^^^^me^^^^(dammit!)
I'm so sad I missed your recent(ish) appearance in Portland...will you be back soon? More importantly, what are you for Halloween usually?
Okay, bigger questions though...I'm curious how your poetry evolved over the years. Do you prefer writing politically, personally, or both?
OF COURSE I WILL!
I expect a big cake. please make sure it's vegan, gluten free, almond free, sugar free and also void of tapioca starch.
Hi Andrea! It's Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz here! I am so proud of you, as is the whole Write Bloody family! Thank you for all the incredible work that you do -- both a poet & a public figure! It is so necessary and so so deeply appreciated. THANK YOU!
My question is this: I am sure you do Q&As like this all the time at yours shoes, and get asked similar line-up of questions (as everyone public figure does!); what are some questions you WISH people would ask you, but never do?
(NOTE: Please don't feel like you have to ANSWER the questions!)
I wish people asked me more questions about my high school boyfriends. I wish people asked me about my previous jobs, for example, my job as a telemarketer selling a product called "Score", a cologne guaranteed to get any man laid at the club.
What's your most and least favourite green room food?
favorite--- chips and hummus.
least favorite--- caffeine. you don't want to see me on stage after having caffeine.
Hello from the Philippines Andrea! Firstly, I want to let you know that your words have moved and inspired me so much that I can never thank you enough for your talent and bravery. It's been years, but your work continues to be a refuge.
My questions for you:
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this AMA. Please keep doing what you do. :)
something that has been helpful to me lately is to assume that just about everyone around me is feeling as vulnerable as I am at all times. Especially the folks who seem like they're totally together and "fine." Does "fine" even exist? If the world was going to end in 24 hours I would run quickly in the direction of everyone I love and hold them so so so tight. Also I'd eat lots of french fries and also I'd say thank you a million times. If I could talk to my 21 year old self I think I'd do more asking than telling. I think sometimes we grow out of our wisdom the older we get. What I'd really love to do is talk to my 3 year old self. That kid was wise.
Are there ways that drugs (legal, recreational) fit into your creative process?
If you have experience with psychiatric meds, do you have any thoughts about how they impact creative states/production?
Ya'll are asking the best questions, thank you.
I write sober, I always have. And for the last decade I've performed sober. If I even have one drink I don't want to step foot on stage. I find it gives me less access to my emotional truth.
I've been on antidepressants and anti anxiety meds in the past, and I personally didn't notice them effecting me negatively or positively artistically, but I know that's not the case for everyone.
Hi, Andrea! I'm a huge fan and have seen you live a few times - each time more inspiring and beautiful than the last. On a more personal level, your poem "Blue Blanket" really made me feel less alone in the weeks after I was sexually assaulted.
My question is if you've ever written and then performed a poem that had a completely different impact than you expected, for good or for bad. What was that experience like?
Yes, I have. Something that can commonly happen specifically with a poem like "Blue Blanket" that I'm performing in hopes of offering some healing, is that occasionally I have found that it can actually be retraumatizing for survivors in the audience to hear it. I've had people get up and have to leave the room. I've done a couple of shows in my career where, before I got on stage, the host announced that there would be a therapist available after the show. I wish that was always the case.
Wanted to say that you are such an inspiration. I saw you perform in St. Louis a couple years ago; your words give me chills. What is your most vivid positive childhood memory?
So in Maine where I grew up, there were winters when the snow would pile up almost as high as my house. One of my favorite memories is walking out in the snow with my mom and having her bury me so nothing was showing but my mouth and eyes, and it used to make her so happy because I would just lay there and giggle and giggle and she would just laugh and laugh at me. We lost a majority of our photos in a faire years ago, but I have one photo of me buried in the snow with only my eyes showing and it's my very favorite photo.
First of all, like many others, your poetry has gotten me through a lot and I can never thank you enough.
Is it strange having a female name while using neutral pronouns? I know you sometimes go by Andrew, but do you ever use a more neutral name?
Did/do you ever go through periods of self hate because of your sexuality/gender?
Do you think poetry is worth writing, even if it is really bad?
What makes you so passionate about helping young people through hard times?
In Crab Apple Pirates, you say "The heartbeat thieves didn't find her, for fifteen years." Did something happen to your sister at that age? That line has always confused me and I don't hear you talk about your family all that much.
I'll answer a couple of your questions so I can answer a few others as all before our time runs out!
Sometimes Andrea feels a little feminine in my ear, but I personally want to keep the name that my mom gave me, that's important to me. But some of the things my friends call me are Andrew, Gibby, Dre, Sam, and Gibs.
There was a time in my life that I had self hate around my sexuality, but that's long past. In rem of gender, I don't think I'd call it self hate at this point, but I'd rather not have boobs. And I wish I has a mustache.
I trust poetry so much, I think bad poetry could save the world.
Hi Andrea I was wondering how you balance life on the road with your personal life?
Well, that just made me laugh out loud. It's difficult on any intimate relationship I have, to be away so much. And also I find that when I come home I often feel a bit lost because I've been on the road so much. I suppose the road at this point has become more of a home and honestly, where I find the majority of my community.
What do you do to make it through a bad panic attack? Have you ever tried to write in the midst of one?
I saw you at the Czar Bar in Kansas City last year. Please come back soon. We need you here!
I've not tried to write in the midst of a panic attack, but sometimes I will run through poems that I've already written and I find it helps to ground me. I've been having panic attacks for so many years now that the list of things I do to try and counter them is honestly endless. I do a lot of hugging myself and hugging other people. A lot of downward dog. and a lot of running around screaming "THE ROOF IS FALLING ON MY HEAD!!!"
The most important thing for me is to not try to pretend it's not happening. I'll often even walk onto stage and tell the audience "I'm totally losing my shit right now".
Hi Andrea! I just wanted to thank you for your work, 'Ashes' is one of my favourite performance pieces ever and your poetry was a major influence in coming out to myself. I want to know; in which direction do you think the queer community needs to work next? In much of the western world over the last decade there's been a huge swing to accepting lgbt+ people, and I want your thoughts on where our activism needs to be focused for the next step.
Thanks very much!
I think the queer community needs to focus on working in active solidarity with communities of color. Specifically white queer community has a lot of access to assimilate, which means we have privilege we should be using to support other marginalized communities.
What's the single most adorable thing that Squash has done to melt your heart?
And thank you for your arrangements of words that are so profound they make my every pore ache, scream, laugh, and love. You're amazing!
I talk about this in the poem I wrote for Squash but the sweetest thing she does is bury her treats under me, wherever I am in the house. I'll give her a treat and she will run around the whole house burying it places until finally she decides none of those places are safe enough, and she ultimately decides I'm the safest place. Which is the single biggest compliment I've ever gotten in my life.
My father passed away just over a month ago. We didn't have the best relationship and our relationship was at its worst when he passed. Your words give me the courage to wake up some days. How do you find the courage to wake up?
So much love to you during this time. So much love. Thank you for finding the courage to wake up today. i think your courage and the courage of other people is a lot of what gives me courage to wake up, knowing we're in this together, and that we have each other's backs.
I just wanted to say that you are my hero. Honest. I never looked up to anybody I didn't personally know until I found your poetry. Someday I am going to see you perform! It's on my bucket list! Do you ever make it up to British Columbia, by chance?
I wrote you a letter a while ago, but I never sent it because I didn't know if you'd read it, and the thought of you not reading was too excruciating. How often do you read your letters?
Also, I talk about you a lot, but I'm never sure what pronouns to use! Do you have preference?
I just wanted to say that you have honestly changed my life. Completely. You released the poet in me. :) Whenever an anxiety attack strikes, I whisper some of your poems to myself. They always calm me down.
Someday, if I ever meet you, can I please give you a hug? It would mean the world to me.
Thank you so much.
OH! And do you have any advice for how to be an ally for people living with an illness?
Again, I just gotta say how rad ya'll are and how really blessed i feel that you're sharing your questions and time with me here. I was in Victoria this past winter and I loved it and hope to be up that way again this coming year. I do read the letter people give me and they are so special to me. If you ever give me a letter, I will read it. Pronouns they/their . And in terms of being an ally to people living with an illness something that really helps me is when my friends say things to me that are as simple as "I feel really sad that you're feeling what you're feeling right now." Or my friend Kelsey will actually say, "I'm fucking furious that you're sick! Fuck Lyme!!" and that always feels super supportive to me.
Oh, and I forgot to add: how does Squash interact with different bodies of water? Mud? Tall grass?
<3 Thank you! <3
Squash refuses to go into the ocean ever since the time she tried to drink it. She loves creeks and rivers. She eats grass. And is constantly covered in mud. I'm in Oakland right now, away from her, and I wish I had her furry muddy body in my arms right now.
Woo! Hey Andrea,
You're fantastic, I've been a fan for a very long time. You're top 3 on my list of people I want to hug someday. While I could spend most of this post telling you how much I love you, I'll just ask questions:
Who is your favorite poet, both past and modern?
Favorite thing about Boulder?
* Got any good book recommendations? I need something new to read.
Someday we'll hug, and I'm a super great hugger. Do you know that if you press your heart against somebody else's heart when you're hugging, eventually your hearts start beating at the same time.
I guess I would have to say that Mary Oliver is my favorite poet of all time. She can change my entire world with two lines about lichen.
Best thing about Boulder= Bike paths. And best friends.
I just finished reading "The Courage Anthology; Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls", it's one of the best books of poetry I've ever read.
Hi Andrea. First and foremost, thank you for all that you do. You've inspired me so much that I actually wrote my thesis for my BA about you.
As for my question, what is your ideal crowd to perform for? Is an intimate setting easier on your stage fright? Do you like when people are vocal during your performances or do you prefer silence and snaps?
Thanks, always wishing you all the best.
I worked for a long time with a group called Vox Feminista. Their motto was to "Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable". I love performing for audiences that have a mix of disturbed and comfortable people, and I find the more interactive an audience is, the more inspired and connected I feel.