Young people have always been the ones not afraid to speak up. For years, we’ve been credited as the catalyst of society. Today’s next generation is known for taking a stand, for recklessly pursuing love, compassion, tolerance, equality, and grace. We are often defined as being the first ones to do something.
Andrea Gibson, groundbreaking spoken word poet and activist, is a champion in this endeavor. The first winner of the Women’s World Poetry Slam, Andrea is no stranger to confronting inequality with compassion. She continues to bring raw, confessional poetry to audiences throughout America, delivering powerful, heartfelt readings on war, class, gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality, love and spirituality.
I had the honor of conducting a Q&A with Andrea about her career as a spoken word poet, her advice for today’s youth and young writers, and living vulnerably.
Q: Why were you drawn to spoken word poetry?
A: I was drawn to the energy, the liveliness, the community, the emotion, the connective intention and the focus on social justice. I’d not seen art prior to that where the artist and the audience where consistently making eye contact, as if the poem where a conversation and something could be built from that conversation that would stir some goodness into the otherwise machine of things.
Q: Do you feel that your poetry has evolved over the years?
A: Yes, definitely. My writing, at first, had a pretty narrow lens. I spent a lot of years looking at the world around me without understanding it’s nuance and complexity. Throughout the years my lens has widened and I’m more invested in wondering than I am invested in being right.
Q: What are some of your favorite pieces that you have written?
A: My favorite piece is almost always the most recent piece I’ve written, but some pieces I feel particularly grateful for because of the ways they have connected me to community. Almost every piece I’ve written about mental health/illness, for example, I feel especially thankful for.
Q: What does activism mean to you?
A: To borrow a quote from Vox Feminista, ‘To comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were in high school?
A: I wish someone had taught me an active practice in learning how to love and celebrate myself. I wish someone had said, “The more you honor and live in line with exactly who you are, the happier you will be.”
Q: What advice do you have for today’s youth?
A: Live loud and wild and kindly. Live with your ears and hearts wide open. Live fierce and rowdy and brimming over with the good light. Know whatever you feel is OK, make space for all of it.
Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?
A: Read. Read. Read. Write. Read. Read. Read. Write.
Q: Your powerful, insightful vulnerability is a driving force in many of your poems. How has vulnerability shaped you as a person?
A: It took me a long time to be willing to be vulnerable. It wasn’t a natural thing for me. I spent a lot of years trying to hide what I was feeling and who I was. But we all create our safety in different ways and I eventually tapped into the understanding that I felt more safe the more I was telling the truth about my own experience. So in a sense, I started being transparent to save my life. And it worked.
Q: What aspect of your career has been the most fulfilling?
A: Meeting open-hearted people who have a shared experience of feeling A LOT, and deciding together that the expression of that is ultimately healing to not only ourselves but to the world around us.