Poetry gets a bad rep; the poems we do at GCSE rarely connect us to the author. Whilst I read incredible works of poetic fiction, they always left 16-year-old me feeling distanced from the page. That was, until I watched spoken word performances, and later read the writings of Andrea Gibson. Gibson taught me how poetry could help us feel understood. How we could be told stories and taught lessons in new and interesting ways. Gibson’ has an incredible use of metaphors, language and discussion of gender and morality. So much so that it has helped me appreciate the poetry and fiction I never understood before. I want to share with you, their collection, The Madness Vase; in which Gibson uses their unique voice to explore societies treatment of individuals.
‘The Madness Vase’ opens the collection, and is one of my favourite poems of all time. In the poem, Gibson discusses various things people have said to them about their mental illness. The poem battles stigma, showing readers that there isn’t always one solution for someone dealing with depression. Gibson has seen little acknowledgement for mental illness, leaving them feeling like an outsider. The poem ends with a hopeful sentiment about the importance of continuing your passions in the face of mental illness.
The trauma said, “Don’t write these poems.
Nobody wants to hear you cry
about the grief inside your bones”
But my bones said, “Tyler Clementi jumped
from the George Washington Bridge
into the Hudson River convinced he was entirely alone”
My bones said, “Write the poems.”
‘The Madness Vase’ serves as an introduction to this collection. Gibson turned pain into poetry, trauma into rhyme. It is a beautiful insight into the mind of someone trying to understand their own existence and place in the world. Trying to heal from trauma and find their identity.
Another brilliant poem from this collection is ‘Andrew’. In which Gibson discusses their relationship with gender, identity and societal pressure to label and defines those who are different. Furthermore, this poem describes Gibson’s desire not grow up into a man or a woman, but instead “something nobody has ever seen before”. ‘Andrew’ contemplates the pressures of society, how we are taught to make ourselves conform. I love this poem because it eloquently demonstrates the beauty of gender ambiguity. Gibson shows us that we do not need to fit into what has been deemed ‘manly’ or ‘feminine’; we just need to be kind, respectful and true to ourselves. Gibson’s finalising thoughts in the poem say:
“I want to bend in a thousand directions like the sun does.
Like love does.
Like time might stop
so that the hands of the clock can hold each other”
I’ll end with the poem, ‘A Letter to the Playground Bully, From Andrea, Age 8 ½’. In which Gibson addresses the girl who was once their bully with forgiveness, compassion and understanding. This poem is slightly different from the others in the collection, the narrative and language style is reminiscent of that of an 8-year-old child. Gibson regularly mentions lessons their mother has taught them. The metaphors are also more juvenile and suiting of the themes of the poem. My favourite line from this poem is:
My mother says it is totally fin
if I blow off steam
as long as I speak in an octave
my kindness can still reach.”
Gibson’s poetry and this collection in particular, have changed the way I view poetry. It showed me how poetry discusses issues I face, how it can make you feel understood. Gibson lets their readers know that they are normal. Their thoughts are valid, giving us all a medium to understand ourselves. The power of poetry comes from its ability to change the way we see the world. Coupled with how it needs to change and grow, whilst teaching us how to find our place. Andrea Gibson is poetry for the modern soul, which is curious, open-minded and hopeful for better and brighter things.
Check out Andrea’s website here: https://andreagibson.org/
Image Credit: Coco Aramaki