Sundress: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Ari Eastman reads the poem, “Royal Heart” by Andrea Gibson.
First, I want to say thank you Ari for your moxie in picking a spoken word poet. Gibson is a force to be reckoned with, and you did a great job portraying that in your recording.
Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m not familiar with Gibson. What can you tell us about them?
Ari: I’ve been a huge fan of Gibson for a while. “Honey” was the first piece I stumbled upon and it was like experiencing a sudden high of the most wonderful explosion of feelings. I was hooked from there on out. Activist, poet, general badass — Gibson is incredible at navigating the most vulnerable and raw human emotions and somehow putting it all together in a breathtaking poem. Their work also focuses a lot on important issues like gender norms, LGBTQ struggles, identity, politics, etc. Really powerful and meaningful stuff. I actually saw Gibson perform live my senior year of college right after I got a tattoo, so I like to think I’ve got some of their poetry circulating in my blood.
Sundress: “Honey” is such a great love poem. It must be magic to watch Andrea perform in person. Was they your first introduction to Slam?
Ari: Watching Andrea is so incredibly magical. They just command a room and it’s inspiring to watch. But actually, my first intro to spoken word poetry was a fella named Rudy Francisco. I stumbled upon a few of his poems on YouTube one night and was instantly in love. He’s just so charming and likable. And weirdly enough, the universe came through and he ended up being one of the coaches when I joined the UCLA poetry slam team back in college. So not only did I meet one of my first ever poetry inspirations, he became a mentor and a good friend.
Sundress: Now “Royal Heart” is also a love poem, but if “Honey” was the new happy-go-lucky pop single, from, say Carly Rae Jepsen, “Royal Heart” would be the new Lana del Ray. It’s full of minor keys and starts off with a bang:
You will never be let down by anyone
more than you will be let down
by the one you love most in the world
it’s how gravity works
it’s why they call it “falling”
It’s full of a rich melancholy. What most drew you to this poem?
Ari: I think for me, “Royal Heart” is just so layered and that’s what really attracted me to it. It’s got this duality of incredible vulnerability, but also such a strength in just announcing, “Here I am! This is me! Take it or leave it!” I love that about Andrea in general, and especially this poem.
Sundress: How has Gibson’s vulnerability, or style in general, influenced your own work?
Ari: I love the strength in telling the truth. Gibson is such a great example of that. They are unafraid of stripping the things society tell us we should shy away from, and I really identify with that. It’s helped me tremendously in being brave with my own work. I never want to be afraid to go places that aren’t easy. Gibson is a big source of inspiration to me, in that regard.
Sundress: Why don’t you leave us with your favorite recorded performance of Gibson, and then perhaps introduce us to Rudy Francisco?
Ari: My favorite has to be this. Chills. Every. Damn. Time.
Rudy is an incredible poet, and all around good, good human being. This is one of my favorites by him:
And he’s very well known for this poem:
What is essential to you as a writer or poet? What piece changed your life? Gave you hope, validated and voiced your fears, was there while you triumphed over them? What piece brings you joy? Made you laugh or grin like a fool? Who was it who made you sit back in wonder, inspiring you to be a stronger writer? We want to know. Send us a recording (or packet of short recordings) of you reading your Lyric Essential—a short story, a handful of poems, an excerpt or two—to SundressLyricEssentials AT gmail DOT com. Then we’ll talk.
Ari Eastman is a spoken word poet, a staff writer for ThoughtCatalog and YouTuber who will tell you random facts about sharks (if you’re into that kind of thing). She strongly believes in balancing the feels and the funnies. And is always down to split a cup of frozen yogurt. Just don’t make fun of her for still liking gummy bears. Her three books, Green Eyes, I Promised You I Wouldn’t Write This, and Everything Sucks, But I’m Still Happy, are available on Kindle.
Andrea Gibson is a poet and an activist. The first winner of the Women’s World Poetry Slam, Gibson has performed in numerous venues across the states and been featured on C-SPAN, BBC, Air America, and Free Speech TV tackling topics such as gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality, love, and war. She has released five full-length albums, most recently FLOWER BOY, and three books, THE MADNESS VASE, Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns, and PANSY. Gibson in Boulder, Colorado.