'Kindergarten" is how Boulder-based spoken-word artist and activist Andrea Gibson replies when asked how long she's been writing.
"I think I was calling myself a writer when I was 5. ... You know when your fingers start to callous when you start writing with a pencil? I remember coming home from kindergarten and telling my mother that my hand was changing shape to prove that I was a writer."
The performance part, however, wouldn't come until much later. Gibson penned short stories throughout her school years, and studied creative writing at Saint Joseph's College of Maine, but it wasn't until 1999 when she discovered spoken word at the Denver Poetry Slam that she took to the microphone.
"I never thought that I would get on stage, ever, because I had terrible stage fright. But luckily that year I also got my heart broken — and that makes you brave," the 38-year-old says, laughing. "I finally dared myself to get up on stage, and that was the first time I did it and I fell in love."
And though she's toured the U.S. and Europe, been featured on the BBC and C-SPAN, and won the Women of the World Poetry Slam, she says she still has a ton of fear around performing. So much so that she's tried "every trick that you've ever heard of for stage fright," including doing yoga in green rooms, and dancing.
"Dancing helps a lot before I get on stage. Specifically if it's '80s music. ... 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun.' That helps every time."
Pop makes way for magic. Take, for instance, this excerpt from "Maybe I Need You":
last night I saw your ghost
pedaling a bicycle with a basket
towards a moon as full as my heavy head
and i wanted nothing more than to be sitting in that basket
like ET with my glowing heart glowing right through my chest
Gibson's delivery, of course, is key, which is why she's been on tour for the past eight months — she visits colleges and universities, giving readings on everything from gender and class and sexuality issues, to spirituality and love — but she's ready to be home, to finish out the season with four Colorado shows, then rest and write.
After all, penning new work while traveling can be challenging, given her writing style.
"I write out loud, running around in my house, screaming at the top of my lungs, or whispering at the walls. If anybody walks in on it, it's always super-awkward. ... I can't write without moving. The idea of sitting down and writing is just bizarre for me."
Whatever goes on behind the scenes for Gibson turns into passionate performances. "Maybe more than a poet I'm kind of a public feeler," she says. "I just get up there and feel everything all over the place. And I don't think that our culture is super-welcoming of that."
"I used to work with Vox Feminista ... a radical performance group that was based in Boulder," she adds. "I discovered spoken word at the same time I discovered Vox Feminista. Their motto is: 'To comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.' And I think of that every time I take the stage."