Sophokles and Hendrix: together at last

By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 14, 2005

Don't you hate it when you meet someone with the same first name as yours? Well imagine how annoying it would be if that person also shared a similar-sounding last name.

Fortunately, poets Regie Gibson and his buddy Reginald Gibbons, UA alumni, have developed a good relationship after doing readings together for years in Chicago. Presented by the Poetry Center and the Academy of American Poets' 10 Years, 10 Cities Program, they will give lectures and readings this week.

"Of course, it's a coincidence, but the thing is how strange it was if I was reading somewhere and he was reading somewhere, we would get an audience from each others' readings," Gibson said. "I would have people show up saying, 'Wow. I thought you'd be a lot whiter and a lot older. ' They would really be surprised that I was so young and had accomplished so much."

They might have different backgrounds and poetry styles, but it is the poetry that unifies Gibbons and Gibson.

Gibbons, a Texas native currently teaching and heading the English department at Northwestern University in Chicago, said Frances Sjoberg asked them to read at the Poetry Center after seeing them perform in Chicago.

Gibson, a Mississippi native now living in Boston, said he first became acquainted and obviously fascinated by Jimi Hendrix as a youth, primarily because he could identify with his quest for identity.

"Jimi was a guy who represented so many things to me at the time. There were things that I resonated with," Gibson said. "I always joke that he was the first performer that I've ever seen who's showed me that you could be a heterosexual, alpha male, African-American wearing a boa and some highheeled boots and still be all right."

In addition to a poetry reading with Gibbons on Saturday, Gibson will also give his lecture, "The Ifa and Duende of Jimi Hendrix," at the Himmel Park Library on 1035 N. Treat Ave., just off East Speedway Boulevard.

Ifa (pronounced "eefa"), is the supernaturally-driven Yoruban religion, which Gibson said is found in the Americas in the Santarķa, Haitian voodoo and other derivatives, particularly below the Mason-Dixon line.

"It's a very interesting religion. By no means is it restricted probably back to Yoruba," Gibson said. "It goes all through the world that people have complex mythologies that relate to their cultures. But that's the one that I'm interested in describing. That's the one I feel has probably the most to do with the Hendrix."

Gibson will use the notion of "duende," the Spanish word for spirit or charm, to discover the energy that moves through Hendrix's poems and songs.

"I guess I'll try to concretize some of the abstractions of it, but it's a difficult thing to do that, particularly with English. So much of the language, much less the concepts, don't even translate," Gibson said.

Reginald Gibbons, who speaks Spanish fluently, is a translator as well as a poet and can read French, Italian and Portuguese "pretty easily," he said.

"Greek is really, really hard for me," he admits.

Gibbons said grasping two or more languages helps develop an appreciation for one's own language, particularly in regard to its usage in poetry.

"I don't think it requires it. Some people are born with a great ear, like great musicians, but it sure helps," he said. "It's sure interesting. It's really interesting to know another language and to use it to help articulate your own."

In his first lecture co-sponsored by Tucson Writers' Project, "Why Are There Cows in the Garden of Eden?" Gibbons used Adam's naming of the animals as a starting point to explore the representational function of language in poetry.

The lecture was held at the River Center Library yesterday evening.

"I heard someone else give a lecture, several years ago, on Genesis and poetry and I suddenly saw what it was that interested me," he said. "I'm not going to pretend that I've got this all figured out because I'm not a biblical scholar, though I kind of wish I had been."

In his second lecture, "How Sophocles Writes a Poem," which he will give at the Poetry Center this evening at 6:30, he will examine how little poetic form has changed over the centuries.

"That is really about poetic technique and it asks the question, which I find interesting, which is, 'Why is it after 2,500 years, or maybe 10,000 years, poets are still doing the same thing in contemporary America with language that they were doing all that long ago?'" he said. "That's interesting to me."

This will be a first-time visit to Tucson for Regie Gibson, but a second visit for Reginald Gibbons who was here about 20 years ago, but not at the UA.

They will read at the Social Sciences Auditorium Saturday at

8 p.m. and end with a question and answer session.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Gibbons said. "I think the Poetry Center is a wonderful institution and I'm really glad that they exist and that they do all the things they do."