Award-winning spoken word poet, currently on tour in the UK, fills us in on the need for rallying cries, self love and thought-provoking words
American poet and activist Andrea Gibson is well-known for incisive verses examining everything from gender expression to queer love and social reform. We pinned down Gibson to ask a few questions about their nuanced, protest-powered new poetry collection, Lord of the Butterflies.
Talk to me about poetry as protest. Is this something that feels particularly strong when you're performing certain pieces as spoken word?
Many of my poems, and I would say many spoken word poems in general, are rally cries, poems that were written to inspire action. People's minds don't change easily or quickly, but I have noticed that people's hearts can change in an instant, and that is the power of art. Art speaks to the parts of us that are wiser than our minds, the parts of us that understand we are not separate from each other.
Love, loss and gender seem to be major themes. Did you set out to write a particular kind of collection, or do the poems and themes come bit by bit?
I rarely plan collections of poetry. They most often span a period of time and all of the worlds of emotions and moments that stir up in that window. Lord of the Butterflies has been called my angriest collection yet, mostly because it was written over the two years Trump has been in office. But it is also, I think, my most loving book. I don't think of love and rage as separate, especially right now. And I don't know that there is a poem in the book that isn't a love poem – even the poems about gun violence and gun reform.
There's also a message of self love, is this something you think people find hard and need reminding of?
Self love is something many people find extremely difficult, yes. Myself surely included. Shame permeates our culture, and I believe if it didn't we would have a far less destructive world .To commit to a path of being tender and kind with oneself is to commit to creating a more peaceful society. I don't think a person who is genuinely loving themselves is capable of being cruel to others.
Do you see social reform happening around you? What's one thing you'd love to see changed?
I see many things changing for the better and I also see many things getting worse. I see more and more people waking up, but I also see a planet on the brink of no longer being liveable. If I were to name one thing I'd like to see change it would be our collective understanding of power. I think, very often, we feel powerless, when we are not. Compassionate people are not the minority on this earth right now. Compassionate people are the very large majority. I believe change is wildly possible, but it will require us believing, really believing in our influence and impact, and owning fully that responsibility.
Andrea Gibson: Lord of the Butterflies, Òran Mór, Glasgow, Mon 20 May, and touring.