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Conversing with Andrea Gibson

By: John ThomasStaff Writer

The Pride Network and Hofstra’s spoken word group SP!T brought renowned queer poet Andrea Gibson to the Cultural Center Theater last Tuesday. The night was less of a spoken word performance, or even a poetry reading, and more of a very personal conversation between Gibson and their audience. As they stepped out onto the stage, Gibson admitted to being nervous even in front of the small crowd. Later, they went on to talk about the contradiction between their social anxiety and their line of work. Moments like this punctuated the night, forming a sincere bond between the poet, their poetry, and those listening. Near the beginning of the hour, Gibson threw away their set list, deciding to go along with their gut and audience suggestions. Gibson asked for more than suggestions from the audience, though: “Does anyone have any questions, or answers?” was a query posed to the audience throughout the night. This lack of structure was, for the most part, endearing. For instance, Gibson gave each poem intimate context. When they talked about the history of their poems, they wandered down tangents that were as rich as the poems themselves. Gibson is a poet who draws from their queer identity to fuel the majority of their work. They are self-described as politically active, and have spoken out for members of the queer community who were silenced by violent homophobia. While they keep these values in mind, Gibson never allowed their poetry to be conscribed as the talking points of the LGBTQ-establishment. As a queer person myself, I find that a lot of art from our community in the mainstream comes off as a caricature of our identities. Gibson broke away from that rule. They constructed a vivid, sincere, and wholly realistic portrait of queer culture. My favorite poem of the night was titled “Maybe I Need You.” Gibson introduced it by talking about how, in the spoken-word world, love poems have the same expiration date as the relationship that originated them. That, they noted, was a striking distinct between poets and musicians, as songwriters can perform their love songs long after they have finished with the muse. Breaking from that tradition, Gibson announced that this particular poem concerned someone who had left Gibson’s romantic life. This poem moved me to tears. Often when media talk about queer relationships, they focus on their novelty. It was validating to finally listen to a queer person, in such a personal setting, talk about their love without the formalities that seem to be expected by the LGBTQ community. Andrea Gibson is a sublime artist, with a knack for shirking the conventions of their subject matter. They have four albums and six books out, in which more of their patent authenticity can be found. If you’re a member of the queer community I urge you to seek out their work. If you’re not, there is still a lot that can be learned, as Gibson’s earnest vernacular should be able to connect with all ears. The Chronicle refers to Gibson with a neutral pronoun because that is their preferred identity.

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