Review: The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson
Book: The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson
Rating: 4.5/5 feathers looking for a purpose on the wind
Recommended if you like: Activism poetry from label-eschewing poets
First lines: “The nutritionist said I should eat root vegetables.”
Published: Write Bloody Publishing, 2011
But by bones said, ‘Tyle Clementi jumped
from the George Washington Bridge
into the Hudson River convinced
he was entirely alone.’
My bones said, ‘Write the poems.’
So concludes the first poem in The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson. This collection is very much activism poetry and focuses, among other things, on gender stereotypes and LGBTQ rights. Gibson is personal. She gives us her experiences as tokens, as lessons—her family, her struggle with gender identity, her experiences with love. There are darker hints, too; more suggestions of the sexual abuse Gibson wrote about in her powerful and well-known poem “Blue Blanket” from her first book of poetry.
The Madness Vase features the same frankness you see in a lot of spoken-word poetry, but the transition from performance to print is fluid. She has strong control of language, and she very much has a point. As an ode to those struggling with the same issues as her, Gibson puts a laser focus on LGTBQ gay rights. In one, titled “Jewelry Store,” Gibson recounts how uncomfortable her mother became when strangers mistook her daughter for a boy. Gibson writes:
I brace for impact,
for the car ride home
and the litany of things we do
to fix me.
Continuing with that theme, “Andrew,” discusses how Gibson used to pretend to be a boy. One line reads:
Tell Barbie she can go now.
Tell G.I. Joe to put his gun down and find a boyfriend.
Or a girlfriend. Or a girl-boyfriend.
Fuck it, G.I. Joe just needs a friend.
He’s plastic, and not even the kind of plastic that bends.
This is the kind of collection you read to feel buffered, supported, comforted. Gibson is very much a voice for her readers. She expanded on her eponymous poem in a spoken-word piece that pleads struggling LGBTQ to pull away from suicide, and she started a blog and forum called Stay Here With Me to provide further support. She pushes the boundaries of what poetry is meant to do—whether it’s to build a bridge, provide active support, or give someone a rope to cling to when they don’t think they have anything else.
Interspersed between the political and social poetry are softer poems, like “Somewhere, a Carpenter,” which is a beautiful tribute to her grandmother, or “Maybe I Need You,” which is a poem to a lost lover.
I especially enjoy her shorter poems, like “Gravity” or “When the Love of Your Life Leaves You.” Gibson is not traditionally laconic, so I think having these to balance the two-, three-, or sometimes four-page poems is a nice touch. And they have a power all their own in their brevity.
As an avid Gibson fan, I think her work has more power spoken. There are lines that hit harder, repetition that seems more effective. Like many of her fellows involved in slam poetry, she doesn’t leave many intellectual leaps up to her reader. But these poems are forceful in their purposes, beautiful in their imagery, and earnest in their goals. Gibson is clearly an activist who found a wonderful outlet in the power of words.