Regie Gibson: A Biography

Sandy Joseph, Gaelle Wagnac, Stephany Jean, Jackie Tynes

Ryan Gallagher

AP English Literature

20 February 2010

Regie Gibson: A Biography

I.  Mysterious Magic

Jackie Tynes

Regie Gibson was born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago, Illinois with a "devout Christian evangelical fundamentalist" mother and a father who strict father who served on the Chicago Police Force (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec. 3). Living in a cultural melting pot like Chicago often clashed with the strict household he was brought up in, as did traveling back and forth between the "Mississippi delta" and Chicago (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec. 4).  This strict upbringing influenced him heavily with the fact that his mother raised him and his brother to "quote biblical passages verbatim" and his father taught them to "survive in street hustler territory", which is reflected in his "current language and phraseology"( Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec. 3). 

The impact of different cultures and types of music in Chicago also greatly influenced Gibson and his poetry. He "grew up" on Pilsen’s Mariachi and Narcocorridos, Humboldt’s Salsa, Merengue and Bachata, Rogers Park’s Rai, GnawaSoca and the west and south sides Funk, Hipneo-soul hop" (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec.7) that can be heard in his poetry today. However it is the blues, jazz and the music of Jimi Hendrix that have resonated the most with Gibson and his poetry. The influence of Jazz also came a young age where he developed the ability to scat "a verbal convention in Jazz in which a singer experiments by imitating musical instruments and substituting lyrics for words for phonemes” (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec.1). This scatting and jazz has evolved into the performances and poetry that he writes today.

II.  From Chicago to Boston: How His Poetry Career Started

Sandy Joseph

          Regie Gibson is the winner of the 1998 National Slam Competition, and yet he is much more than that. Gibson was born in Chicago, "the son of a Jehovah's witness and a police officer". His parents wanted him to become a minister, but that wasn’t part of Gibson’s dream; he had an intimate relationship with beats and words (Nairin par.7). Gibson, as a result of his youth, writes poems about his childhood and the lively streets of Chicago.

          In his article “The Challenge of Slam”, Gibson mentions how he first became "involved in slam poetry in 1996". Gibson speaks of his experience before he became involved in poetry; he even makes a mockery of his former self by calling himself an "ignorant swaggering shit talker" (par 4). Through slam poetry, he became a different person and learned about a different part of himself he never knew existed. Although this was not necessarily the beginning of his poetry career, Regie Gibson became the winner of the 1998 National Slam Competition.  His career escalated from there. After experiencing that success, Gibson's career grew; his talent allowed him to perform in several places such as Harvard University's Longfellow Hall for the Cambridge Poetry Festival, among other places (Louder Arts). While living in Chicago, Gibson was a "Writer in Residence at the Effie. O. Ellis Center", and according to the Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts, he worked there before he left Chicago.

              Gibson moved from Chicago to Boston in January 2001 (Rossiter, Dupree). His friends performed some of his poems as a way to say goodbye to him, and a way to wish him luck in a new state. The performance took place at Chicago's Guild Complex.  Gibson moved to Massachusetts for love, as a result of his move, he also learned different styles of poetry and learned to appreciate new poets with distinctive styles. He is inspired by the history of Massachusetts and its affiliation with the idea of transcendentalism, which influences him as a writer (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec. 4). Gibson is a song writer, a lecturer, a facilitator, and a teacher (Robinson, par.1). His humility, with his greatness serves as an inspiration to all and it is what makes him such a known poet, among many other things around the world. 

            Gibson is a great poet, but all great poets are influenced by other artists that they also consider great. Gibson uses his influence to emphasize their grandeur and expose their true genius. One of Gibson’s many great influences is the rocker from the 60’s named James Marshall Hendrix, or Jimi Hendrix.  Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington, November 27, 1942. Even before Hendrix was born, he was already a musician, because of his long family history of music.  Hendrix’s grandparents were traveling performers that worked for Vaudeville Company (Picolli 23). His father Al was also a performer, a tap dancer, who performed at nightclubs in the 1930’s (Picolli 2). His mom was a singer, and when he was born, he inherited his family’s traits and became a performer. Hendrix’s mother left home when he was eight years old then died seven years later (Picolli 25). Although Hendrix was raised without a mother, his father played a major role in his life teaching him and telling him stories about music. His grandmother also contributed to the better aspect of his life by telling him Indian stories, and reminding him of his origins (Picolli 27).

         One of the things that attracted Gibson to Hendrix’s work was his lyrics, and the way he uses them “in a sensual, and spiritual way” (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec.2). Gibson would also use those elements of style in his own work to provoke feeling from the audience, and allow them to live his words. Gibson sees Hendrix as a role model, and he related with him and his internal struggles. Hendrix cleverly used his “angels and demons” into his music to exhibit his true identity, Gibson does the same.  In honor of his love for Hendrix’s music, Gibson wrote a poem for Hendrix named “The Eulogy of Jimi Christ”.

In his book, Storms Beneath the Skin, Gibson honors Hendrix once again by writing a haiku called “Voodoo Chile”.  That term was used by Hendrix to describe himself in one of his songs (Picolli). The poem showed Hendrix’s love for music, and his unique way of using words and describing objects around him. Gibson wanted to fully grasp Hendrix’s work, and make his audience fall in love with his music and lyrics just as he had done, therefore he listened to his grandfather’s advice to “have enough ass to carry the weight” (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec.2).  Gibson did just that; his work featuring Jimi Hendrix contributes to our admiration of him and his talent, and allowed him to learn more about himself as a poet.


III.  Merging Page and the Stage

Stephany Jean

 “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe served as Gibson’s biggest inspiration at the beginning of his poetic career. Poe’s awkward, eerie sense of everything illustrated how frightening life could truly be (Holman, Bob and Snyder, Margery). The mysterious and distraught tone of the text causes the mind to dramatically climax (Gibson Interview with Christopher Lydon). Over the years, the rhythmic storytelling of poetry continued to spark the interest of the upcoming Gibson.

 Gibson relates poetry to a “dialogue strained over long periods of time”. Gibson deems inspiration to be the most important quality for a poem. Literary inspiration from the past is used to construct poetry that forces the mind to re-read the given text. Gibson stresses the fact that he wants his words to impact those who are able to hear them. Without sustenance there will be no reason for the audience to be drawn into Gibson’s performances. His influence is translated into his spunky performances that tend to draw in the audience with the assistance of his band Neon JUJU (“Poet/Songwriter Regie Gibson and Neon JUJU Oct. 5).  Neon JUJU merges the elements of soul, funk, and R & B to create “a seamless marriage of word and sound” (Gibson Interview with Christopher Lydon).

As the Gibson’s love of poetry flourished, his teaching career started to become a much more prominent aspect of his life. His abstract style of poetry, in turn, became submerged into his teaching career through creative endeavors. Most of Gibson’s poetic clinics usually entail lectures about poetry, creative writing, and communication to young adults in high school (Gibson “Yams, Maize and Matzo Ball Soup for the Colonizing European Soul”). A variety of Gibson’s performance locations include educational institutions or poetry centers where the youth will be sure to hear his material. Gibson attempts to give the voice of adolescents back to them by strengthening their own first. He believes that these generations of students are sculpted into tools that are programmed to think a certain way (Massachusetts Poetry Festival). Gibson continues to successfully instruct his students on how to re-invent themselves as literary thinkers. Their critical thought process is no longer controlled by what other people have told them to think. It is now controlled by what is in their own mind instead of the mind of others. As a result, his students are able to recognize whether or not he is being truthful (Gibson Interview with Christopher Lydon).

Gibson’s experience with “passionate teachers” during a struggle for civil rights showed him that “education was imperative” to survival (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec. 5). Young high school poets remind Gibson of why he became so infatuated with poetry in the first place. The raw drive of his students awakens his passion for conjuring up new topics for his music and poetry.  In actuality, he attempts to return to “the primal ground from whence he sprang” to stimulate a genuine message (Massachusetts Poetry Festival). From a young age students are taught through a combination of “music and language” to comprehend specific information. Since students “are already hardwired to learn things through the use of music”, it can be used as a mechanism “to introduce more complex language constructions––like metaphor[s] and ideas” (Gibson Email to Jackie Tynes sec. 5) .He uses his performance techniques as “potent pedagogical tool[s]” to make books that are required reading in school seem significant and less like a death sentence. This era of students respond more effectively to musical influences. Since we are all “creatures of sound”, hearing something in an alternative way affects how we perceive that portion of information (Gibson Interview with Christopher Lydon). In this interview, Gibson also touches on how differently students interpret and respond to poetry in contrast to adults. He continues to bridge the gap between classic literatures such as Homer’s Iliad. Gibson does this by performing the text in a way that young adults are used to listening to. After students were introduced to this abstract method of comprehending classic literature, they became more open to reading more classic works of literature. Their change of heart was due to the way in which the literature was presented. The students did not think that the classic literature was boring because Gibson did not make it seem that way. He was able to connect with the students in an educational way that was beneficial to them.


IV.  Background of Poetry Slam

Gaelle Wagnac


No movement has received more credit for the revitalization of poetry in America than the Poetry Slam Movement. In fact, Poetry Slam did more than revitalizing poetry; it gave it an entertaining feature. Rather than being read, poems were performed. Marc Kelly Smith, a native of Southside Chicago, is one of the founders of the movement (Smith, par. 1). In 1985, Smith, “a construction worker launched a poetry reading series at a Jazz club in Chicago” in an effort to give new life to spoken words (Holman, par. 2). As helenathegreat mentions, it’s “a new kind of art, it’s Hip, fresh, edgy and exciting [sic]” (1). Smith’s idea proved to be a great one as poetry slam quickly grew in popularity (Burrows, par.2).

Young poets particularly found the movement interesting. The entertaining aspect of the slams attracted crowds of participants and spectators (helenathegreat, par.2). The criterions for participation were simple. Poets of diverse background found in the poetry slams a venue to discuss social and political matters in a way that was entertaining. The slams’ popularity quickly outgrew Chicago. Soon, many cities across the US were hosting similar events (“What is Poetry Slam, Inc,” par.2). In 1990, the city of San Francisco hosted the first national poetry slam (Lenthall, par.2).  This competition is held every year while the number of participants has been increasing from year to year (Burrows, par. 13). Teams from Canada and France also take place in the yearly tournament. Poetry Slam is also very popular in Germany, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, United Kingdom, Nepal, Singapore, Australia, India, the Netherlands, Bosnia, Denmark, South Korea, Czech Republic and Greece (Rasnik, par.1).

The format of a poetry slam is quite simple. Members of the audience are selected by the host of the event to be judges. The crowd is encouraged to give feedback to the poet by booing or cheering. In most competitions, poets are restrained to a three minutes performance (helenathegreat, par.11). The slam generally lasts a few rounds. Poets are eliminated in successive rounds until there is only one standing. Another reason for the slams great popularity is that most of them are open to anyone (Lenthall, par.2 ).

There are some rules that the poets are supposed to respect. First of all, each performer has about three minutes.  If the performers go over that, there will be consequences such as points getting deducted. Another rule is that each poem must be of the poet’s own construction. The poets are not allowed to use props, costumes or musical instruments. Five judges score the poets (“About The Berkeley Slam And Slamming" par. 14). The high and the low scores get dropped. The three middle scores are kept giving the poet a score between 0 and 30. (“The Rules of Slam” par. 7).

There also other different slams. An open slam is the most common type of poetry slam.  As the name suggests, it is open to anybody that wants to compete. In an Invitational slam only those that get invited compete. Poets must conform to a particular theme or genre in a Theme Slam. In a Dead Poet Slam, poets perform works of deceased poets. The poet with the lowest score is rewarded in a Low-ball or Bad Poetry Slam. “King of the Hill” Slams involve face-offs and direct eliminations.  In a 1-2-3 Slam, the first round lasts 1 minute, the second round 2 minutes and the third round 3 minutes. Team Slams are poetry competitions involving teams from different cities. In Props Slams, poets can use props and costumes. A Spring Break Slam is nothing but a non-stop party (“The Slam”). The National Poetry Slam is the major event each year in Poetry Slam. It is organized in a different city each year. Teams from different cities battle it out during a week for the ultimate price. The individual worldwide poetry slam is similar to the national poetry slam but instead of teams, individual poets compete for the price. High school slams are poetry slams organized among high schools. They are refereed by teachers (Powers, par. 12).

                                                                 Works Cited

“About The Berkeley Slam And Slamming." Berkeley Poetry Slam. 2003. 13 Feb 2010. 

"A Brief Guide to Slam Poetry".  Poetry.Org. The Academy of American Poets. 29 Jan 2010.  

Burrows, Alyssa. "Slam Poetry: A Brief History from Chicago to Seattle." History Link: The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. 16 July 2001. 13 Feb 2010.

Gibson, Regie. Interview with Christopher Lydon. "Whose Words These Are."  Open Source, Conversation on Arts, Ideas and Politics. 24 Sept. 2009. 26 January 2010

Gibson, Regie. Storms Beneath the Skin. Joliet, Il: EM Press 2001.

Gibson, Regie. “Re: Dear Mr. Gibson.” Email to Jackie Tynes. 3 Feb. 2010.

Gibson, Regie. Regie Gibson @ BPS Lizard video. Perf. Regie Gibson. NME. Web. 26 Jan. 2010.

Gibson, Regie. “The Challenge of Slam.” African American Literature Book Club. 25 Feb. 2010 <>.

Gibson, Regie. "The Witness." Greater Brockton for society for poetry and the Arts. March 2004. 27 Jan 2010.   

Gibson, Regie. "Yams, Maize and Matzo Ball Soup for the Colonizing European Soul." Greater Brockton for society for poetry and the Arts. March 2004. 27 Jan 2010.

helenathegreat. "All about Slam Poetry 76."  Hubpages. 2010. 13 Feb 2010.

Holman, Bob and Snyder, Margery. “Hip Hop, Performance Poetry, Spoken Word, Slam.” About.Com. The New York Times Company. 2010. 26 Jan. 2010.

Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Advertisement. Boston Globe on the Web. 9 Dec. 2009. Web. 26 Jan. 2010.

Morgan, David. "A Brief Guide To Summary." The Writers' Guild of Great Britain. 2005. 13 Feb 2010. 

"National Poetry Slam." Poetry Slam, Inc. 01 Apr. 2007. 12 Feb. 2010.

Nairin, Stephen. Interview with Regie Gibson. "Poet Regie Gibson speaks of love, life and Hendrix." The Brown Daily Herald. 15 Nov. 2004. 9 Feb 2010.

Picolli, Sean. Jimi Hendrix. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

"Poet/Songwriter Regie Gibson and Neon JUJU Oct. 5."  Bowdoin College. 2 Oct. 2009. 26 Jan. 2010.

Powers, John. "Poetry Slam". GotPoetry?com. 13 Feb 2010.

Raznik, Sabne. "The Colorful History of Slam Poetry." Associated Content: Arts & Entertainment. 19 Oct 2008. 13 Feb 2010.

“Regie Gibson.”  Louder Arts.  26 Jan. 2010.

Robinson, Jeffrey. "Regie Gibson". Poetry Jam Collective. 14 Oct. 2009. 30 Jan. 2010.

Rossiter, Charlie and Dupree, Bill. "This month's feature: Regie Gibson." Poetry Poetry.  21 Oct. 2006. 3 Feb. 2010.

"Slam Poetry." Language is a Virus. 2001-2010. 13 Feb 2010

Smith, Marc. "Slam Info." SlamPapi. 29 Jan 2010

“The Rules of the Slam." Austin Poetry Slam.  2004. 13 Feb 2010.

"What is Slam Poetry." The Poetry Slam. 2005. 30 Jan 2010. 

  "What is Poetry Slam, Inc.?." Poetry Slam, Inc. 14 April. 2007. 29 January 2010.