Feature Poet:
Regie Gibson

Literary Performer, Regie Gibson, has lectured & performed in the U.S., Cuba and Europe. Representing the U.S., Regie competed for and received the Absolute Poetry Award in Monfalcone, Italy. He’s featured on HBO, 3-TED X events & was nominated for a Boston Emmy. He’s received both MCC Poetry Award & has composed poems for The Boston City Singers, The Mystic Chorale and Boston’s Handel+Haydn Society. He performs regularly with Atlas Soul: a world music ensemble, his own word music ensemble, The Regie Gibson Project, and Shakespeare to Hip-Hop: an education and performance program integrating classical and modern texts into English curriculums.

Soul-Lit co-editor, Samantha Libby, conducted the following conversation.

Sam Libby:
First of all, I met you in the NPS world at the time that you were reigning champ. (1998/99) I give away my own prejudice and preconceived notions by telling you how surprised and grateful I was to find you to be *you*. Famous and revered by the community but grounded. Encouraging, friendly, helpful, positive. And I was no one in that circle of the world! So I guess my question to you is where does your kindness and humility stem from? Have you always been this way? As you became successful did you have to learn how to manage "ego" or were you already there?

Ha! An opportunity to boast about about my humility. Funny!
Hmmm… I suppose I generally like people and have never understood the need for condescension and conceit. I also believe that being a seeker is a poetic requirement. And being a seeker means that there is something you are without and in need of. Often this is a need to take in wisdom, knowledge, experience, which all human beings can offer and it is difficult to take in those things if you are full of something else!

As far as kindness and generosity are concerned… my dad passed on a few pieces of advice to me that I still find useful. One of the most important to me is that you can tell the character of a man by how he treats people the world says he can mistreat. This, to me, meant and means that everyone should be treated as an end and not a means to an end. I try to pass this on to my children with varying levels of success.

Do you see poetry as something spiritual?

Given that poetry is about exploring and expressing connection, I think poetry is an innately  spiritual endeavor. Metaphor is a reaching out. It is an an attempt to find the thing in one situation or context that is resonant with the thing in some other situation or context. However, because we can never get to the actual “thing in itself,” as Kant calls it, we create imaginative and linguistic tools in order to approach the “it” in something. So, poetry, to me is the medium through which we connect with a seemingly disparate other. Also, given that our brains work via analogy, it might be said that we have evolved in ways that demand we seek connection.

Is all poetry a spiritual expression?

Not sure how it could be otherwise. However, whether that expression is edifying or terrifying depends upon the state of the individual expressing it. Octavio Paz said, and I am sure I am paraphrasing here:  “Poets are arrogant and self-centered. That’s why I prefer poetry to poets! Poetry existed before there were poets and will exist long after.” I think he’s probably on to something with that sentiment.

Were you raised in a faith based tradition? If so, could you tell me about that?

Yes. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. It was a fundamentalist, evangelical form of Methodism. We read and studied the Bible… a lot! We also read smatterings of the Torah and the Quran and had general religious classes that introduced us to other forms of worship including other forms of Christianity. In many ways it was great. My regret is that we studied other faiths with a mind toward understanding how “wrong” they were and how much they were in need of what we could bring them. Because I was leaning in the direction of poetry, I began noticing what was similar in the faiths and began to see the differences as philosophical and cultural. Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism made sense to me given the cultural, historical, and political contexts from which they had sprung. Much to my mother’s chagrin, her allowing me to be taught about other religions led me to abandon hers! 

Are you raising your children in a faith based tradition?

Hmmm. Well, I am raising my children in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. I am not sure how much “faith” is pushed. We believe in study; a personal and responsible search for truth and meaning; and, that “salvation” is going to come from looking inward and toward the earth and not outward and up to the clouds. I teach my children that they must move through the world as healing agents and not diseases and that they have to find as many green, sustainable, and humane ways as they can to get enough money so as to do as much good as they can. I have told them that if they have the choice of making a lot of money by doing what is legal, but unethical, and making less money by following the ethical route, they should ALWAYS choose the ethical. I find this view supported by Unitarian Universalism.

How do you feel your work as an artist (for you really are an artist, not "only" a poet) connects you to or moves you away from faith, tradition and spirit? Do you see a divide between faith and spirituality?

Great question. I am not quite sure how to address it. Faith, tradition and spirit are not always the same thing, though they can be, and often are, related. I feel, at times, driven or led by all three. However, there are times I have had to set them aside in order to get the work done. Why? Because they can become the sole lenses by which I view a particular subject. They are three insistent forces and may keep an artist from digging deeper into the work. Take C.S. Lewis’ “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” This is a beautiful and poetic statement. It can also be limiting if taken too far. It can easily lapse into “Christianity is the only light by which the world can truly be seen.” Well, we have definitely seen the result of that belief!

Of those three terms “tradition” is the least abstract. Certainly, tradition is important. It connects us to the past and we temporally-obsessed hominids require connection with our past in ways no other creature seems to. And, yes, the past is important to me as an artist. I often draw from it when I have to write something for a special occasion such as an MLK observation or a homily. Some of the greatest speeches in American history have invoked the past, connected it to the present, and connected both to a possible future (Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” Kennedy’s first Inaugural Speech and King’s “Dream Speech,” just to name three). As far as the other two terms, “faith” and “spirit” are more abstract and less definable, I suppose. The most famous definition of faith comes to us from Paul who says it “is the assured expectation of things hoped for. The evidence of things unseen.” That’s probably as good a description as I have heard. I think we artists have a sort of faith in the process of creation. Faith that if we follow and work with the spirit (a knowing energy that guides) then something will materialize that is worthy of that effort.

What are you working on these days? Tell me about your projects and where you are in life. What are you learning these days?

Lately, I have been working on a few things. Every first Friday of the month until March 2017, I have been performing a show called “The Shakespeare Speakeasy” for the Boston Public Library. The show uses storytelling, song, rap, and poetry, backed up by different musical genre (hip-hop, pop, funk, jazz, blues, and country) to dive into the life, love and influence of William Shakespeare. I have also been working with an environmental scientist from the Red Cross/Red Crescent. I take some of his scientific findings about climate change and the ways in which we  combat global warming, and make them sound more like something someone wants to actually hear about. I am working with the Henderson School in Dorchester. It is an all-inclusion school with students of differing cognitive and physical abilities in the same classroom. This requires me to work with students with issues I have never before encountered. It is both frightening and exhilarating. And, finally, I am working with more and more choruses like the Mystic Chorale, Boston City Singers, and Handel Hayden Society. I have been pretty busy!

What would you tell beginning and mid-stage writers if they asked for some advice?

Argh! I hate doing that. I will only say that there are a few things I wish I had been told earlier:

1)Yes, write a lot, but read MORE than you write.
This will give a writer a knowledge base which you will need if you want to sustain a career.

2) Read more than the genre in which you write.
Read science, philosophy, medical journals, engineering papers, and pop magazines. This helps a writer become more complex. You might write about those subjects, but even if you don’t, engaging and wrestling through those subjects (particularly the difficult ones) trains your brain to think in both concrete and abstract ways. This is good for your writing mind.

3)Look at your writing and notice what senses you don’t explore.
Explore them! Find writers who are good at this and find out how they got that way.

4) Don’t forget to play with the language!
This is as the only way to surprise yourself. After a while your language will become stale and predictable and you will need to refresh it. Challenge yourself and have a little fun with surrealism and nonsense.