Andrea Gibson Speaks About the Upcoming Lord of the Butterflies Tour

Andrea Gibson's (SFBAC) Kate Haley had a chance to interview American poet and activist, Andrea Gibson, prior to the Lord of the Butterflies Tour, with dates in the US and the UK. Gibson is coming to Oakland next month for two sold out shows at The New Parish and you can find our full interview below.

SFBAC: You have been quoted as saying that “{Poetry} was my clear path because I wanted something to get done right away." This has to be one of the most hopeful statements I've heard for a long time; the notion of poetry with being actionable in the here-and-now is exhilarating. At what point did you realize how truly revolutionary poetry could be?

Andrea Gibson: When I discovered poetry slam many years ago I thought of the poems being read as songs of protest, rally cries, what one might want to say at the beginning of a direct action to stir the groups heart. The immediacy of the poems woke me up, and it was and still is sometimes hard to stay in my seat during a slam because I'm thinking, "I need to go do something directly helpful RIGHT NOW". I always leave spaces like that feeling electric, especially if the poets on the mic are recognizing the power of their voices, and especially if their words ring with possibility. That said, there is a line in my new book that reads, "Even when the truth isn't hopeful the telling of it is." So poems that are painful to hear can carry that same light, as we are living in a time when the truth is deeply necessary and heartbreakingly rare. And all of that said I'm always going to believe beauty is revolutionary, art is revolutionary. You hear a poem, it fills you, and you are a different, often clearer, person after.

SFBAC: How do you refine your craft in support of that? It seems that you, more than others, have maintained a voice that is bidirectional with your audience. What’s your approach?

Andrea Gibson: My shows are really political, and also, sappy as hell. I can't go ten minutes without talking about love. Laughter is also key for me in being able to lighten my own being enough to make space for the heavier pieces. My mood swings on stage the same way it does during the day. I have so many feelings I can't fit them all in my body, and so I write poems and read them out loud. So far in life I've been just a tad bit more hopeful than I have been despairing and I think that's the theme of almost every line I write.

SFBAC: What have you seen poetry bring about? Any real world stories?

Andrea Gibson: There are so many stories. I've seen a big shift in how my community relates to mental illness simply because of the poems people have written about their experiences. And to be on the writing side of things---that is its own brand of healing, because to find the self-love to speak up on stage about what we have been culturally expected to hide is transformative. I wrote "Ode to the Public Panic Attack" simply because I was having so many panic attacks on stage I wanted to be able to speak directly to it when it happens, and knowing I have that poem comforts me because it gives me permission to own that part of myself fully, and I hope it gives people in the audience permission to feel whatever they need to feel.

SFBAC: If you we’re going to play Rilke, what advice would you have for a young poet?

Andrea Gibson: Read and listen to as much poetry as you find. My craft always improves as much through reading, if not more, as it does through writing. Read what you like, but also read what you don't like and practice articulating why. Sometimes in doing that you discover you simply don't understand the poem, and then that's an opportunity to dig deeper and move closer to understanding. Know why you write. It may change a lot, but I don't like beginning a poem unless I know the why of it. Sometimes the why of it is simply to enjoy the process of writing, and, that I believe, is plenty. In a destructive world, the simple act of creating and enjoying is an offering.

SFBAC: As you’re gathering speed on your US tour, what would be the top thing that you would want your audience to take into the world after seeing you perform?

Andrea Gibson: I hope people leave comforted and at the same time charged and excited to participate in shifting their communities and worlds in the direction of peace. Peace is such a giant word but I mean it to relate to our daily actions, our relationships with each other and ourselves. That's much of what my new book Lord of the Butterflies speaks to.

SFBAC: Do you have a favorite San Francisco memory?

Andrea Gibson: I have tattoo of a stiletto on my arm from a day I spent walking around the city with a femme friend who was wearing stilettos the entire time. San Francisco, as you know, has some giant hills! Before that day I had (wrongly) never thought of a stiletto as a symbol of toughness. Though painful at times, I love being woken up to my own lack of insight. I love learning, and the tattoo to me, is a reminder of all I don't yet know and all that I can still learn, and is also a reminder to myself to stay tough (while also staying tender). On a completely different note, one of my other favorite San Francisco stories was meeting a girl dog named Brad Pitbull outside of a queer bar.

SFBAC: We can’t wait for the upcoming shows. Be sure to check out Gibson’s full tour schedule at and hope you're one of the lucky ones to have scored tickets to the upcoming sold out New Parish shows on March 3rd and 4th!

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