CU clinical psychologist Glenda Russell gives a talk to students about how they can cope with their anxieties under the Trump administration during the spring 2017 Diversity and Inclusion Summit. Feb. 21, 2017. (Jesse Hughes/CU Independent File)

Diverse Learners Awareness Week: Poet Andrea Gibson performs on life, love and political activism

On Friday, Feb. 24, four-time Denver Grand Slam-winning poet Andrea Gibson presented poems and personal stories to a small but invested crowd at the University Memorial Center. The closing act to Diverse Learners Awareness Week, Gibson’s performance focused on their personal experiences and upbringing, as well as their identity as a queer person in relation to the current political climate in the U.S. Throughout the night, they emphasized the point that everyone has their own life experiences and no one is superior to another for who they are, regardless of ability, background or identity.

“I don’t even like the word political,” Gibson said when introducing a poem titled “When the Bough Breaks,” which talked about the American dream and the violence and wars that the U.S. has partaken in. “It takes all the human out of everything that’s happening.”

The current political climate was the subject of a few of their poems and anecdotes. Openly against the Trump administration, Gibson talked about how those who are struggling with the policy changes can cope, telling them to “take turns giving up and take turns being joyful.” During their presentation and the Q&A that followed, Gibson mused on the current political divide in the U.S. and called out white feminism and white privilege. However, they were hopeful in the ability of people to affect change.

“It’s so important that we know there are enough of us already,” Gibson said.

They also referenced the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, which targeted the LGBTQ community. During the reading of a poem about the massacre, a few members of the audience were brought to tears. Unlike the poems before, Gibson ended the poem to silence, then said to the audience, “Thank you so much for not clapping.” A similar silence was observed for many of the heavier poems.

Taylor Gordon, a University of Colorado Boulder alum, had seen Gibson multiple times previously and was one of the students who became emotional during the night. Though Gordon isn’t involved heavily in the slam community, seeing Gibson was “impactful to me,” as both had similar upbringings as queer people in rural areas.

“Being a queer individual, I focus on that lens of myself so much that I sometimes don’t recognize there are other lenses going on and there are people having a hard time and I feel like every time I listen and I’m made aware of that again, that’s very important to me, because you get stuck in yourself sometimes,” Gordon

The first poem, “CPR”, and one of the last poems, “Panic Button Collector,” were about anxiety and panic attacks, another common theme. Gibson was open throughout the night about what they were feeling in the moment, at one point saying that it felt like there were bees in their stomach. Their openness on the topic stemmed from a tactic they had developed through therapy, which was to “be transparent” and “give yourself permission” to feel what was occurring within. They have had panic attacks in the middle of poems in the past, but they were able to avoid that for their performance through this transparency, and the crowd celebrated this achievement with them. They also talked about therapy’s impact on their life in Q&A, calling their therapist “one of my heroes.”

“There are so many things that I thought would never change about my life, that I thought were concrete things about myself, that have change through therapy, and that’s exciting to see, when you see something you think is always going to be there, it’s always going to be an unworkable wound, and to feel yourself healing, it’s exciting,” Gibson said.

Though the night was heavy at many points, the speaker was intentional in adding in pointed humor, saying, “I pride myself on not being a professional” by making their events more personal. They shared that they were “arguing with [their] set list” multiple times. Additionally, they shared some personal goals that they were developing.

“I have a pact with my feminism to no longer say sorry on the microphone unless I punch someone,” Gibson said early on, speaking on people’s inclination to apologizing for existing.

The Q&A following Gibson’s performance asked them to elaborate on the themes that they had talked about earlier. Audience members also asked about the poet’s writing process. Gibson explained that they write with the sound of a poem in mind, along with a theme, so that the words come as they develop the intention of the poem. They elaborated that they’d like their poetry to be emotionally understandable by someone who doesn’t speak English.

“I really like the idea of being able to convey such strong emotions and convey such qualities through just the performance of it, outside of content,” said Jonathon Colegrove, an undergraduate student who was interested in the event due to his minor in creative writing.

Though the event was small, Gibson’s intimacy and energy excited those who were there, making the night a memorable one for all.

Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Lucy Haggard at lucy.haggard@colorado.edu.

About Lucy Haggard

Lucy Haggard is a Colorado native in her first year at CU Boulder majoring in journalism. She is currently the breaking news editor. She writes about CU Student Government, current events on campus and whatever unexpected thing happens next.

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