His Life Is Poetry: WeHo City Poet Steven Reigns

Steven Reigns Gay Rub Photo by Jenny WaltersAs a teenager in St. Louis, beginning the process of coming out as gay, Steven Reigns shared a poem with a friend. She told him he should be a writer.

“It just clicked the moment she said that—I thought yeah, that’s what I should be,” Reigns said.

Years later, a friend would jokingly refer to Reigns as “the poet laureate of West Hollywood.”

“I thought it was funny and I was charmed,” Reigns said.

And he thought, West Hollywood should have a poet laureate. So when the city put out a call for applicants for just such a position, Reigns applied.

He faced “some tough competition,” he said—also considered were Charles Flowers and Yazmin Monet Watkins—but ultimately Reigns was tapped for the job, which has been redubbed “city poet.”

He will be officially inducted during the City Council meeting on Oct. 6.

Reigns lived for 10 years in Florida, where he earned a degree in creative writing. Then, in 2005, the timing worked out for him to move to California.

“I always wanted to live in Los Angeles … and I had a great opportunity to move out here,” he said. A friend’s roommate was moving out, and that vacancy meant Reigns would have a place to stay.

Reigns first moved to the Hollywood area, then moved to WeHo’s Norma Triangle neighborhood about nine years ago. He wasn’t sure WeHo would be his scene, but he was soon smitten with the area’s walkability. Then, a local business caught on fire and “my phone kept ringing and people were calling with questions about it,” he said. He walked a few blocks toward the business, and he found the community gathering together. Ensconced within L.A., one of the nation’s most populous cities, here was a community with a tight-knit, small-town feel.

“It was close to a Norman Rockwell painting for me,” Reigns said. That’s when he fell in love with West Hollywood.

Shortly after his first book (“Your Dead Body is My Welcome Mat”, which Reigns calls “the perfect title for the angsty writing of a 25-year-old”), was published, Reigns started teaching writing workshops. Reading and writing had offered such solace to him, Reigns said, and “I wanted to connect other queer youth with that.” He offered workshops for young people in many U.S. cities starting in 2001, then added workshops for people with HIV.

It was around 2007, a couple of years after arriving in L.A., that Reigns had the idea to offer a workshop for LGBT seniors.

“Now this is a population that I really want to give a platform…to share their experience,” he said. “I want to help them document their lives.”

The result is Reigns’ “My Life is Poetry,” a free autobiographical poetry workshop for seniors that he teaches at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Not only did the class spark a “My Life is Poetry” anthology, edited by Reigns, but it is the subject of a new documentary film of the same title. The free premiere of the film will take place on  Sept. 20 at the Center’s Village location, 1125 N. McCadden Place at Lexington.

Reigns, an artist whose “Gay Rub” was exhibited earlier this year at the One Archives Gallery and Museum, has a diverse background. But he doesn’t see the various facets of his life as being as disparate as they might appear.

“Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me” is a quotation he finds inspiring.

Where Reigns has been, professionally, includes several years of working as an HIV counselor, disclosing the results of HIV tests.

“I loved doing that work,” he said. Yet he craved more ongoing relationships with clients, beyond the short time allotted to discuss the results of a rapid HIV test. He earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Antioch University, then began working as a therapist in an outpatient substance abuse treatment program.

He took to leading group therapy easily, he said, with his experience leading workshops and facilitating discussions informing his new work. “I actually see it as closely related,” he said.

Reigns will serve a two-year term as WeHo’s city poet. During that time, he will be tasked with writing poems for official events and acting as “a champion for poetry, language and the arts,” per the selection committee.

“I think poetry is a great place for emotional truth and I want to deliver that,” Reigns said. “I want to engage more people in the process of writing poetry and appreciating poetry.”

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jimmypalmieri
5 years ago

This is wonderful news. Steven is not only a friend but a huge talent. He has made history now, as the city’s first! I couldn’t be happier.

joetheplummber
joetheplummber
5 years ago

From common love we find new new unity;
When civil hands make civil words pristine.

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