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May 10, 2017

Andrea Gibson and Sarah Kay demonstrate the power of words in Northampton

Aakanksha Gupta/Collegian

(Aakanksha Gupta/Collegian)

NORTHAMPTON – Last Wednesday, the Academy of Music was filled with some wonderful poetry courtesy of spoken word artists Andrea Gibson and Sarah Kay.

Andrea Gibson hails from Maine, and as evident through their work, cares intensely about subjects such as sexuality, gender and drug use. Gibson has been a crucial voice in the poetry community for a decade now, and continues to spread awareness through their words.

Sarah Kay is a poet from New York City and passionately addresses love, education and youth. Kay founded “Project VOICE,” a team of writers that educates and empowers young people through poetry. Andrea Gibson and Sarah Kay bring the rawest of emotions to their performances. It is the sheer honesty and humanity in their words that have enabled them to lead the poetry movement and connect with the audiences the way they do.

Having brought up issues such as sexuality, gender, drug addiction, incarceration, love and friendship, they elicited a tearful and emotional reaction from the audience. Barely a week after National Coming Out Day, Sarah Kay performed “Dreaming Boy,” a poem about gender identity. “Just like that, I did not crave language I had always thought I needed,” she said. This made me think about what visibility means to distinct people and reminded me that there is not one uniform means of expressing one’s sexuality, nor of feeling emotions.

Another very noteworthy moment was when Andrea Gibson surprised the crowd and brought out singer-songwriter Mary Lambert to accompany them in a poem about the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. This reminded the crowd of the subjectivity of visibility, and reiterated the need to communicate with and support each other.

Other poems included “Mrs. Ribeiro,” in which Kay reminisced about her junior high school principal and her influence on Kay as an educator who cared deeply about students. In “Photoshopping My Sister’s Mugshot,” Gibson talked about the need to view drug abuse through a different lens: as a public health concern, rather than a danger to criminal justice.

They also made a poignant observation that truly struck the listeners: we tend to write where we want to be, rather than where we are. The beauty of Gibson and Kay’s work is that they permit people to interpret the poetry in unique and individualistic ways. This openness and empathy got me thinking about the significance of expression. I considered the moments that we share our experiences because we create some very unique and meaningful bonds.

I thought about how sometimes people want to write but do not always know what to write about, and if they do, don’t necessarily feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts. Moreover, we as human beings are not always content with the way we are, and as a result imagine ourselves in the future—perhaps just to be different, and happy with ourselves.

Poetry is such a crucial social tool because it has the power to inspire us to confide in each other in ways that we may not be able to in regular conversation. Toward the end of the show, Sarah Kay said, “Thank you for listening.” Thank you, Sarah and Andrea, for reminding us of the value of expression and individualism.

Aakanksha Gupta can be reached at

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