Intimate Senior Moments Captured in Poetry

August 1, 2008

“Poetry comes nearer to vital truth than history.” Plato

“Life-changing,” is how Karen E. Dickinson describes her experience in Steven Reigns' poetry workshop. “I expected to be writing about the sun and the moon,” the 65-year-old, self-described “spiritual warrior” says. “But the autobiographical aspect became a message of who I was and who I was in relationship to my past. As I allowed all those feelings to come up, I really didn't put on the brakes.”

28 and Cruising

A moonless night
the Falcon cruised to a dead stop.

Her body laid against the car seat,
sweet sleep from a long trip.

I trembled
as I weaved words in a
mind that was tumultuous.

How was I ever to spit out the unsaid words?
Not knowing what to call this
new language
filled with mystery and flair.
Fear
unlike anything, I had experienced
and thoughts of craziness.

In love with a
recovering nun
a rosary nearby
my own cross to bear.

I was married,
two small sons, home sleeping.
A husband, sitting in front
of the TV.
Watching, Leave It to Beaver
swigging his Budwieser,
believing the show.

I leaned over, pulled her close
to me
Kissed her on the mouth
mumbled,
“I love you, not as a friend.”

—Karen Dickinson

My Life in Poetry is the luminous manifestation of poet Reigns' intimate teacher-student relationship with a group of our community elders. “These seniors have lived through an interesting and challenging time emotionally, culturally, and politically,” the accomplished writer says. “LGBT elders of today have experienced life before the liberating Stonewall riots in 1969, seen the devastation of HIV in the early ‘80s, witnessed the emergence of queer representation in the media, and the shifting political landscape.”

Funded by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, with logistical support from the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the 16-week workshop attracted more than 20 LGBT seniors who contributed to the creation of the handsome 144-page book. Reigns, who has taught poetry to queer youth as well as people with AIDS, says, “LGBT-elder voices are not often heard or honored. I wanted to create a workshop that helped change that.”

Dickinson describes her teacher as “a new day prophet.” By incorporating his own poetic voice-captured in his debut book, Your Dead Body Is My Welcome Mat—Reigns inspired his students' authentic voices to emerge.

“Captivated by his teaching,” Dickinson remembers going into class, looking at Reigns and saying, “This is very hard.”

“Almost all of the participants were new to writing poetry,” Reigns says. “Almost all of them were intimidated and had lots of questions to see if they were doing it right.

“Writing poems seems to be enshrouded in this out of reach elitism that I don't believe in. The elitism surrounding the arts does a great disserve, not only to the people it excludes, but also to our society at large. When voices are muted, we all miss out.”

“The task and challenge was to answer to my own muse and not someone else's,” Allen Page says. “As a poet, Steven gave me permission to transform my life experiences into art.” Born in New Orleans, Page is a 63-year-old two-spirit elder and spiritualist of African, European, and Native American heritage.

Ghost

I don't remember much:
White sheet draped over my head,
not wanting to be seen,
tripping over the sheet.

Don't look.
I'm not here!
If you're looking for me,
look over there.

Ask the ball player and the ballerina.
They'll tell you:
I ran away.

Now I'm invisible.
No one can hurt me.

I'm here
but gone.
A ghost
in hell.

—Allen Page

Page says, “Steven's course is a rich, powerful, and cathartic process for me; and the culmination of it, for me, will be the public reading of one of my poems—standing up in front of people and revealing my inner self.”

A book release party and reading will be held on Sunday, June 22, 3 p.m., at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza. There will be catered refreshments.

“The enduring nature of print also gives the writer a sense of creating something eternal,” Reigns says. “The wisdom and depth of their life will be left behind.”