“Facebook is a lousy mortician, trying to make us all look more alive” said Andrea Gibson, standing on the stage at the Sixth & I Synagogue Thursday night.
The audience members laughed, wept, cooed and snapped their fingers as Gibson delivered each spoken word poem. Usually the poem would lure in the audience’s and gain its trust with humor then expose stories of suicide and depression.
Gibson is small, but her stature seems inversely proportional to the amount of passion in her words. She wore a black scarf made out of part of the baby sling she uses for her dog.
Gibson expands her activism beyond poetry, she is a co-founder of Stay Here With Me, an initiative to raise suicide awareness and provide a community for those to come together and know that they are not alone. The website explores music and personal stories about coping with depression and suicide.
One poem stood out from the rest. It did not start off with an anecdote about mooning a lover in the grocery store, it got straight to the point. She wrote it to her best friend.
“This year has been the hardest year of your whole life,” she said, discussing what it feels like to feel unsafe everywhere.
She is the author of Pole Dancing To Gospel Hymns, Trees that Grow in Cemeteries, Yellow Bird, What the Yarn Knows of Sweaters, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns and Pansy.
Gibson gutted her truths onstage and displayed them for the audience to see. There were about 500 leaning forward in their pews, drinking in each word.
I have never seen so many girls with dreadlocks and men with hipster haircuts in one room together. There was something both ironic and fitting about the fact that the performance was in a holy place.
She explained to us through her poem A Letter to My Dog Exploring the Human Condition that her dog is saving the world every time he gets poo stuck in his butt hair and doesn’t go looking for someone to blame. She said that it is her favorite love poem that she has written in her entire life.
She mixed some poems with music, which was played on piano and guitar by musician Kaylen Krebsbach.
Sometimes Gibson would become overcome by everything that she felt. Once, while giving an introduction she almost forgot to say the poem. “I want to say more, but I’m not going to.” she said and turned around. She walked back to the microphone and grabbed at her scarf before she began to speak.
“We’re in the feel too much club together, I fucking love it,” she proclaimed, while exploring panic attacks and suicide.
Gibson maintained good humor throughout. Her poems both celebrated and made fun of the intensity of life.
As the performance neared its end, Gibson humbly explored her privilege in having a microphone.
“I have a responsibility as an artist and as a human being that I have not lived up to,” she said, as she mourned the fact that most of her poems about LGBTQA+ community members involve white males.
One of her last poems was almost an apology for this, it began with: “It should never be the responsibility of people of color to educate white people about white supremacy.”
It is called A Letter to White Queers, A Letter to Myself.
Her poems were a battle cry for not only the LGBTQA+ community, but also for black and minority groups as well.
It seemed everyone was either highly uncomfortable, or crying. Gibson said her goal for the evening was to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.
By the audience’s reactions, it seemed she had done that.
The performance closed somewhat abruptly, concluding with her poem Jellyfish, in which Gibson described the importance of staying and of feeling wholly. In order to do this, she used the metaphor of the Grand Canyon.
Gibson is unique, because instead of trying to please her audience, she seemed to attempt to make them feel whatever it was they needed to feel.
Her poems were a call to be educated about one’s own privilege, whether that be race or simply peace of mind.
For Gibson, the stage seemed to be a safe place. She could talk to an accepting audience about being gay, having panic attacks and flashing her lover in the grocery store. She seemed to embrace everything, saying to the audience: “Just be good to yourself.”
One could have gotten up, screamed and cried, or run out.
But no one did – the space seemed so inclusive it would have likely been acceptable to do so.
Raye Weigel is a freshman English and community health double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.