“Alternate Universe” is a strong poem. It speaks to the nature of emotional investments not just in relationships but in ourselves and the effects of misogyny on both. It’s simple, it’s funny, and Olivia’s performance of it is awesome.
I think my favorite line is this: “I have so much beautiful time.”
I found Olivia’s poetry through this TedxABQ talk she did about finding each other in the details. Personally, I’m a big believer in small moments. Small moments where we give thanks, or love, or support or just memory to someone or something. She speaks there about a simple interaction between her and her best friend that she turned into a poem, and uses it to show the audience how she teaches others to write poems too.
In this, she tells us it’s about the details. We can tell stories about small things that are also about big things too. How a story or a poem about a bikini can also become a story about fat-shaming or body positivity or self-acceptance. If you’re a writer, it’s a really good way to think about framing devices. If you’re a human, it’s just a good way to think.
I wrote Instep for a specific publication’s open submissions about eight months ago. It was supposed to be a pretty big poetry anthology being created. At the time I had another poem I was thinking about submitting but when time came to actually send something in (of course I waited until the very last minute, despite having something on hand to send in) I decided I didn’t want to send the thing I had ready to go. Instead, I had an idea for this poem and decided to write and polish it on the last day submissions were open.
It wasn’t exactly a new idea for me though. I know a lot of dancers and have written a few fiction short stories about dancing or dancers before. Almost a decade ago, I wrote a short piece for an online community about a dancer being driven home after a big performance that has some of the same themes of Instep. So this theme wasn’t new to me and in fact Instep is pretty much that specific short story condensed down to its most basic parts. Putting it together into a poem format was pretty simple using that story as a template. It’s not my normal poetry style, but I was pretty pleased with it when I sent it off.
Last week I received the rejection notice for it. I’m disappointed obviously, but I guess I’m not super surprised given that this specific anthology was going to have a higher pool of submissions than your typical publication. (It’s not out yet, so I’m not going to name what it is.)
However, since it’s a little different, a little simpler than what I’d normally write, I’m not super keen on trying to resubmit it elsewhere. But I don’t want to toss it in a digital drawer and forget about it. So, I’m putting it up here and I hope people enjoy it.
Last night’s show at the Lied Center was a pretty amazing hour of poems. I’m so happy I went. The stories that Andrea puts between the poems are maybe the best reason to go. I’ve heard or read most of these poems before, but the lead-up or the explanations that go after… they give them further context in a way that makes them maybe not more meaningful (although sometimes that too) but more powerful.
When you’re used to seeing artists on YouTube: dancers, musicians, poets — sometimes it’s difficult to understand exactly how they’ll be in person. For example, there’s a bellydance I LOVE to watch perform, but when I show people her videos online it’s almost impossible for anyone to get a sense of exactly why I like her so much. Sure, she has the technical stuff down, but it conveys nothing of the tension she puts into her dance.
I feel like as touching as Andrea’s poems can be when read, or heard on YouTube, being present for a reading of them, transforms them. You cannot explain to someone else how moved they’ll be. They have to experience it for themselves.
Anyhow, I say that to explain that last night was exactly what I’d hoped for. I’ve listened to Andrea’s new album, Hey Galaxy, but none of them quite transfixed me the way hearing them in person did.
After the show, I picked up their new book, “Take Me With You”. It’s a sort of short form compilation of the highlights of Andrea’s work. It’s short quotes from poems that are especially powerful. I think it’ll be a great way to introduce people to their work too. I plan on taking mine into the office with me. I get comments or questions about my tattoo constantly. This will be a good way to explain it to people.
Once I picked up the book, I stood in line for about an hour more to meet Andrea. I was alone this time and filled with a room full of people that were much younger than me (unless they were parents or teachers there with a teen).
I also realized how very queer I felt in that moment, with my undercut hair, my Hannah Hart sweatshirt, waiting for Andrea Gibson, in my gender pronoun pin and my new Property of No One jacket. Married as I am, to a man, and in a corporate job where I have to dress pretty conservatively (though I’m prone to casual-down my clothing for comfort where I can), my hair is about the only bit of non-hetero-normative life I get to express. I do cherish the little moments I get to feel a little more like people see my full self.
Just before I went up to Andrea’s table last night, as my stomach was churning and I was having a hard time breathing and felt sort of all over like DON’T SCREW THIS UP AGAIN panic attack was on the horizon. As the women in front of me left Andrea’s table, they stood up and disappeared around the corner. The person helping with their signing (girlfriend, manager, friend? idk) said they were going to get the dogs.
You don’t know how thankful I am for that moment. Squashy, Andrea’s tiny dog, stood on the table in front of me, between Andrea and I as I handed over my book. I showed them about my tattoo. They signed my book and I scritched Squashy’s adorable little face. There could not have been more perfect timing for that dog to sit on that table. I know it wasn’t for me. But it was exactly what I needed to get through that moment, to say hello like a normal fucking person, get my book signed and walk away without losing my shit.
Against my obvious evidence to the contrary (eg. these two posts about Andrea) I do not get this wound up about meeting people, getting things signed, going to events. I’m not good in crowds for long periods of time, but I don’t usually get so worked up over things like this. And even when I am excited, I still don’t have trouble introducing myself or talking to someone.
But I also don’t get just anything in a tattoo. The time in my life when I felt good enough to get a reminder that sometimes you have to go through some shit to come out the other side a different person? It was really hard. So talking to the person that wrote down what I use as pretty much a daily reminder that things get better? Yeah, I feel like it’s not without reason that I’d get worked up over it. But I did it.
I mentioned the other day when I was talking about the new Fall Out Boy album and the song, “Champion”, a poet, Andrea Gibson. Specifically I wrote about a line from their poem “I Sing the Body Electric (Especially When My Power’s Out)”. I can’t even remember the first time I heard this poem but it was many years ago now, and the video of it I’m pasting below came out after I’d seen a live recording of them reciting the poem at some school. So I’m guessing eight-ish years ago or so. I included a picture in that other post of the tattoo I have of a line from this specific poem. I’m not the only one to have had that line tattooed on themself either, but I think it speaks differently to different people.
A few years back I was finally able to see Andrea live at a bar about 45 minutes from my house. To say the experience was meaningful to me would be a severe understatement. See, what I didn’t know when I fell in love with this poem was that Andrea wrote it in dealing with a chronic illness of their own. But, I felt that connection something powerful because my own battle with Fibromyalgia was the main reason I wanted the tattoo in the first place. So imagine my complete shock but also incredible thankfulness at hearing the story behind that poem just before I heard them recite it in person.
After that show, I was first in line to meet them at their merch booth, having purchased their latest book at the time “Pansy” prior to the show.
(An aside: I consider myself a pretty level-headed person. Pretty even-keeled. I don’t freak out about much, it’s not an act… it just takes a lot to illicit an emotional reaction from me, especially about things I enjoy. It doesn’t mean I enjoy them less, I’m just generally not easily excitable. That’s just me. I say that so you know what it means when I write this next part.)
I went to that merch table, first in line, and Andrea came up from the stage to sit behind it. I took one look at them and I think I lost my fucking mind. I handed Andrea the book I bought and tried desperately to show them the tattoo on my arm through a face full of tears. I cried like a baby as I attempted to explain what exactly it all meant to me. I failed miserably of course, though Andrea was gracious and extended a hug to me over the table. Thankfully my friend Amy gently guided me away with my signed book in hand a moment later.
Now maybe it was different because I’d just spent the better part of two hours on a fantastic emotional roller coaster of their own making, as I listened to them recite some of my favorite poems in the world. As well as a ton of new ones I either hadn’t heard or were brand new to the book in my hands. So it’s a fair bet that my emotional stability had faltered quite a bit by the end of the show.
Their book, Pansy, I of course devoured over the next day and a half. And fell in love with a poem about Andrea’s dog, I think most dog-lovers can feel pretty sappy about, “A Letter to My Dog: Exploring the Human Condition”. It makes me cry every time.
Listen, I know that spoken word poetry isn’t for everyone. That freestyle poetry isn’t for everyone. That political, gender, lgbt poetry isn’t for everyone. That poetry… isn’t for everyone.
That’s cool. It doesn’t have to be. But if you’ve not listened or read one of Andrea’s poems before, give it a shot. Doesn’t have to be one of these. There’s pages all over the place to find their work. And there’s not just “Pansy” or their newest album “Hey Galaxy”, or newest book, “Take Me with You”, there are others. Books, albums, videos… poems in a format easy to consume but maybe not so easy to digest.
If you want to try others, start with the artists at Write Bloody and see where it takes you.
I have tickets for Friday to see Andrea speak live again. And I’m already freaking out about it.
I go to a lot of live shows. I LOVE live music and comedy and I have many favorites. And many of them have helped me through some pretty dark and tough times. But there’s something magical about spoken word poetry heard live. And for me, even more so about Andrea’s poetry, not just because I enjoy it but because I find so much of myself in it.