Last Thursday I had the opportunity (aka time off work) to go listen to Andrea Gibson spin poems at the University of Virginia. Let me tell you that it was in the most archaic church I’ve ever seen, all stained glass and heavy dark wood and busts of important religious folk who were probably judging all the queers stuffed into the pews.
University of Virginia has bells that chime every hour. Loudly and with feeling. So, during the performance Gibson paused to let the bells chime. They never did, though, and it was almost a poem when she looked at us and said, “They turned off the bells for the gays.”
One of Andrea’s books, The Madness Vase, is all about the irony of turning off church bells, among other pretty and hazardous things.
“The poems’ topics range from hate crimes to playgrounds, from international conflict to hometowns, from falling in love to the desperation of loneliness. Gibson’s work seizes us by the collar and hauls us inside some of her darkest moments, then releases out the other side. Moments later, we find ourselves inhaling words that fill us with light. Her luminous imagery is a buoy that allows us to resurface from her world clutching new possibilities of our own. Throughout her career, Gibson’s poems have always been a call to social justice. But this collection goes beyond awareness. Her images linger in our psyches and entreat us to action. They challenge us to grow into our own skin. The journey may be raw at times but we are continuously left inspired, held, and certain we are not alone.”
This book is small in stature but big in meaning, and it’s more than just gay literature. It’s church and state. It’s falling and getting back up with bloody knees and a good laugh. It’s that pinpoint of light in the darkness. It’s raw like silk can be raw, but also raw like nerves exposed. It’s loss and fear and hate, and love in spite of all of it.