The Collegian
Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Slam poet uses words to "lift heart out of the dust"

Slam poet and activist Andrea Gibson performed at the University of Richmond's Carole Weinstein International Center Sunday, Feb. 27.

Gibson was the winner of the 2008 Women of The World Poetry Slam in Detroit and has placed third in the world the last three years in the Individual World Poetry Slam.

Her poems are about love, gender, war, class, white privilege, capitalism, sexuality, immigration, the Virgin Mary and leprechauns, Gibson wrote in an e-mail response.

"I write because it is the only time this world makes sense to me," she wrote. "I write because I wouldn't be alive if I didn't. I write because there isn't enough rage in the world. I write because there isn't enough love in the world. I write because it's the only way I know how to lift my heart out of the dust."

She never writes poems sitting down, she said.

"I write walking around, yelling, laughing, whispering at the walls," Gibson wrote. "I need to hear something out loud to know if it works."

Gibson said she agreed with Maya Angelou's quote, "An unspoken poem is a half finished poem."

"Spoken word can only be fully experienced live," she said. "I think more so than any other art form. It is an intimate conversation. So there is a world of difference between being there and not being there."

Junior Johanna Gehlbach, vice president of the Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity, contacted Gibson's booking agent through her website to bring her to Richmond.

Gehlbach had first heard of Gibson last semester, she said, when LGBT suicides were prevalent in the media. Gehlbach was asked to speak at a vigil on campus, she said, and couldn't come up with anything to say. She stumbled across one of Gibson's poems and said, "The woman can speak."

"A lot of things that LGBT individuals go through, she's able to capture that and put it into words just magnificently," Gehlbach said. But, Gibson's performance was for the whole campus, she said.

"She slams about women's issues, LGBT issues, general political issues and issues of race," Gehlbach said. "She basically covers it all across the board. Therefore she's very accessible to a lot of people."

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Senior Jessie Pascarelli heard about Gibson coming to campus through SASD's Facebook page. She watched a few of Gibson's YouTube videos, she said, and they piqued her interest.

After the performance, Pascarelli said, "I cried at least twice. Gibson is the kind of activist I can get behind -- relatable, completely unpretentious and uniquely talented."

About 200 people attended, Gehlbach said, including Richmond students, English classes, faculty, staff and Richmond community members, including people from the Gay Community Center of Richmond.

Students from Virginia Commonwealth University, the College of William and Mary, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, American University and the University of North Carolina Charlotte attended as well.

The performance was sponsored by SASD, Common Ground, WILL, the Westhampton College Government Association and Westhampton College.

Contact staff writer Sarah Craig at

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