Andrea Gibson is not gentle with her truths. It is this raw fearlessness that has made her a kind of rockstar of the poetry world – a four time Denver Grand Champion who has headlined prestigious performance venues coast to coast with powerful readings on politics, global justice and gender issues.
Now, on her fourth full-length album Yellowbird, Gibson’s truths are more intimate and reflective. However, instead of softening her words, she buttresses them with piano, global drums, dobro and violin and accompanies them with music from songwriters Kim Taylor and Chris Pureka, and music inspired by Devotchka.
A powerful live performer, Gibson was the winner of the 2008 Women of The World Poetry Slam (Detroit), and has placed 3rd in the world for the last 3 years by the iWPS. She won a DIY Poetry Book of the Year and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her first book, “Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns.” She has been showcased on Free Speech TV, the documentary Slam Planet, NPR, Air America and Independent Radio Stations nationwide. Now, Gibson is distinguishing herself amongst the other performance poets by bringing her love of music into her current work.
Putting the music together for Yellowbird came naturally. “I always write to music. And nearly every time I read a poem on stage I have the song I wrote the poem to humming in my chest. So for this album, I took the time to record that humming,” shares Gibson. But not every poem is scored. “One of the powerful things about spoken word is you only have your voice and the poem. I don't want to lose that – so I have some pieces of just me and a mic. But I do like mixing things up- and I love the collaboration that bringing music into my pieces requires. I am thrilled with the music and musicians who lent a hand on this on this record.”
In “Ashes,” nationally touring songwriter Chris Pureka’s lends a score that keeps a haunting pace despite the growing velocity of Gibson’s words. Ohio-based singer/songwriter Kim Taylor contributed a sample on, “Maybe I Need You,” a poem inspired by Taylor’s hit song, “Baby I need You.” And on, “How It Ends” a local Denver band performed a Devotchka-inspired tune of the same name.
Gibson’ work on Yellowbird illuminates that the personal is also global, and for a longtime social activist it is impossible for her to separate the two. The poems are no less political or powerful as her most popular piece, “For Eli.” Instead, they are born from a different insight. “There is more introspection than righteous screaming,” explains Gibson. “The politics come with more questions than answers. But this year I started pulling apart the fibers of how we got to where we are and started looking closely how we might move differently- and in doing that, my writing changed.”
“The Pursuit of Happiness” is one such poem, asking, “Have you ever heard your skull crack on a kitchen sink? Have you ever tried to blink the light back? Do you know the man who beat her had been ordered to fit five Afghani children in a single body bag? Is this your pursuit of happiness?” The softness of Gibson’s tone is sadly reverent and underscored by piano.
But elsewhere, she pulls out truths from intimately dark places. “A year ago a fellow poet challenged me to start writing the poems I have been afraid to write. “From that point on, with every poem I’ve written I've asked myself what I’m hiding and why,” says Gibson. “Many of them push me to edge of what feels comfortable to say out loud and to make public. But I think the truth is healing. I know the truth is healing.”
Gibson, who tours over 180 dates per year, will be taking Yellowbird and it’s recorded music on the road -- with summer, fall and spring dates already announced (see attachment.) Seeing Gibson live is an experience like no other, bringing audiences to their feet.
The Denver Westword said, “If slamming were professional boxing, Andrea Gibson would be the light weight you don’t think much of until she’s knocked you flat on your ass.”