I’ll start off by saying that Andrea Gibson is one of my all-time favorite poets. Their words have struck a chord with me from the first time I listened to “Staircase” and “Photograph” when I was in high school, and since then, I’ve seen them live twice, own a few of their books, and have met them in person and given them a big hug. Andrea is kind, sincere, and vulnerable, and they use those qualities to their advantage in their work, allowing lightning to strike, charging every line with powerful energy. With the announcement of their newest book of poems Lord of the Butterflies releasing this fall, I wanted to post a review of my favorite collection of theirs, Pansy.
Pansy (2015) is a collection that grabs the reader by the hand and whisks them away into a world that doesn’t hold back. Pansy teaches them that, in order to survive, they mustn’t hold back, either. This is our world, one that leaves its mark on us in many ways, sometimes physical, sometimes painful. While Andrea does write and speak with beautiful metaphors and imagery in a calming voice that hugs you hard and holds you close, their poems remind us that yes, these are poems, but they are also snippets of a life. It is clear that Andrea has lived a rollercoaster of a life, but through it all, they still have the beautiful view in the distance in their peripheral. Amongst poems of heartbreak, sexual identity, and social upset, there are pieces that pay homage to Gibson’s dog Squash, for example, cooing, “Never had a better reason to / stop playing dead than that day / I saw your face at the shelter: / your little nose / pressed against the cold glass / staring up at me / like I was a gay Noah’s Ark.”
I still think about the poem “The Madness Vase, AKA The Nutritionist,” an ode to life that cries to the heavens a culmination of hurt shared between us all, as the world cries back in the shapes of life and loss. But hope still peers through the cracks in each of Gibson’s works. “What I know about living is the pain / is never just ours. / Every time I hurt I know / the wound is an echo, so I keep listening / for the moment the grief becomes a window, / when I can see what I couldn’t see before.”
I’d list every poem in the book, but if I had to pick some of my favorites besides those I’ve mentioned already: “Elbows,” “Angels of the Get-Through,” “To the Men Catcalling My Girlfriend While I’m Walking Beside Her,” “Plum,” and “Truce.”
I could talk about each of Andrea’s poems, examining every sentence and every line. But I recommend reading them for yourself, even listening to the audio tracks on the album versions as you read along. Only then can you truly feel the emotions that are wrung from this poet’s hard-working lungs. I have learned a lot, not only about poetry and spoken-word, but also about myself, through their writing.
There are so many words to say but no way to say them, without quoting each of their works to relay my feelings about them. I felt the same way when I met Andrea, a few years ago; barely able to formulate sentences because I had so much to say, I simply asked for a hug, and I wish I could give them a hug for each poem I’ve read of theirs, because they deserve it, for both their hardships and their achievements. Pick up a copy of Pansy, and don’t put it down, but maybe keep a box of tissues nearby, just in case.
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