UWF Women’s Studies Conference hosts poet for keynote address
By Payne Ray
The University of West Florida’s Women’s Studies Collective hosted non-binary poet Andrea Gibson Friday at the 17th annual Women’s Studies conference in the UWF Conference Center.
The conference was an opportunity for UWF undergraduate and graduate students to offer presentations on their research projects on a variety of topics, before a keynote address in the evening by Gibson.
“I know today has been a good day, and tonight will be a good night,” University President Martha Saunders said in her opening statement prior to the keynote address.
The conference started at 8 a.m. with a breakfast social and ended at about 8 p.m., after the keynote address and a question-and-answer session with Gibson, whose works had the room laughing in one moment and crying the next.
Gibson came to UWF as part of the “Hey Galaxy” tour, debuting their latest poetic works accompanied by music in the form of an album.
The keynote address was a reading of several poems by Gibson over accompanying beats, with personal stories in between to add context and encourage reflection over the course of the evening.
Gibson explained their choice to start with a love poem by talking about a musician, Nina Simone, who when asked about love songs, said she would only play songs about social justice.
“I knew because a poem was about a woman it immediately became political,” Gibson said from the stage, referring to a history of sidelining women in narratives.
Gibson went on to recite the poem, and every poem, from memory, and transformed an eager room of listeners into a rapt audience, waiting only for the next line.
From there, the poems became more serious, with light-hearted, swear-filled interjections mixed in between.
Gibson drew stark emotional contrasts from the crowd, reciting a poem titled “to the man cat-calling my girlfriend while she’s walking down the sidewalk,” and in the same half hour, speaking about the Parkland shooting and performing a work written after the Pulse shooting in Orlando.
Gibson talked about grief, depression, suicide, and also what it means to be happy with oneself, and how to stay alive when it feels like there isn’t any reason to do so anymore.
They also spoke about walking through a TSA checkpoint, a common topic of discussion among performers in the United States, especially for those whose gender identity isn’t categorized by the TSA’s “blue-button, pink-button” system.
For Gibson, it was a moment they could laugh off after 20 years living life as a non-binary person in America.
“But I do feel this pain in my heart because I know how many people that would be absolutely excruciating for,” Gibson said.
Much of Gibson’s work revolved around feminism and the nature of living in a world which, according to Gibson, has become increasingly hostile since the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
It was after his election that Gibson decided to go on the Hey Galaxy tour and showcase their political poetry.
Gibson felt that after such an emotionally charged period, they wanted to do something political because it seemed necessary.
Even still, or maybe because of that, the keynote ended with a comedic, touching poem about a dog.