My Life is Poetry: Autobiographical Poetry Workshop for GLBTQ Seniors

October 15, 2012

Weho Poet Helps LGBT Seniors Find Their Voice
by: John Morgan Wilson, WEHO PATCH
February 16, 2011

On March 10, Steven Reigns will begin teaching another autobiographical writing workshop for LGBT seniors, helping them find their voices and “reclaim their pasts” through poetry – something he’s done himself with a new collection of poems that are the most personal he’s ever written.

Reigns, 35, a West Hollywood resident for five years, has been teaching My Life Is Poetry for three of those years at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, sponsored by grants from the Los Angeles County Department of Cultural Affairs and Poets & Writers. As many as 42 LGBT seniors have attended the 16 weekly sessions, which are offered free though the Center’s Senior Services program.

In 2008, Reigns edited and published an anthology of his students’ work, My Life Is Poetry, followed by a well-attended event at the Center when they read their newly-published poems. Here’s an excerpt from “Clatter,” by Ronna Magy:

The clatter of silver along untouched plates,

never the son he wanted you to be.

I, myself, silent in the midst of the din.

I know he damaged you.

In recent years, Reigns published several chapbooks of his own poetry. But in his latest collection – Inheritance, about to be reprinted by Sibling Rivalry Press – he probes sensitive new territory: growing up as a gay boy in a hostile environment and emerging to develop his identity as a gay man.

“The poems [in Inheritance] center on what I’ve been given from my family, my community, and my lovers,” he said. “It details my abusive past, my emotions, and my relationships. I wrote it as a challenge to myself to not hide behind the third person narrative and to get those stories out there in the world. There’s a transcendence of pain and shame when we share our stories. The book offered me that.”

Here is “Two Atlases,” the shortest poem in the collection, capturing an intimate moment between two young men, both dressed as Atlas at a costume party.

We both set down our worlds.

Our hands find homes.

Our lips find each other.

Our tongues wrestle.

Our togas fall to the floor.

Shrugging off the responsibilities of the worlds we carry,

we find each other.

Other poems in the collection are much darker, especially those dealing with parents determined to mold their young son into someone they consider manly and normal. Writing those pieces was cathartic, Reigns said, but not always easy.

“There’s a power in telling one’s story [but] I also didn’t escape the sometimes painful experience of confronting my past.”

An HIV counselor with the Saban Free Clinic, Reigns holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida and recently earned his Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University.

During his five years in West Hollywood he’s become a fixture in the city’s lively writing scene. He regularly reads his poetry at the annual West Hollywood Book Fair and has taught a poetry workshop at the West Hollywood Library. In June, he participated in Pride & Poetry readings in Kings Road Park, part of the city’s cultural events during Pride Month. West Hollywood also lists occasional My Life Is Poetry readings in its online arts and culture events calendar.

“The city’s heavy focus on honoring diversity makes me feel like I have a city of one’s own instead of just a room of one’s own,” Reigns said. “Feeling creative or free to express myself is easy in such a supportive environment.”

It’s that supportive environment he attempts to create in his My Life Is Poetry workshops, as LGBT seniors, some new to writing, explore their pasts through the craft of poetry writing. Due to high demand, Reigns is capping registration for the upcoming workshop at 35. For more information contact Pam Forrest, department assistant at the Center, at seniors@lagaycenter.org or 323-860-5830.

“Attendance isn’t mandatory,” Reigns said, “and students are welcome to drop in and out often, provided they attend the first two classes.”

Copies of Inheritance are available in trade paperback at amazon.com, Reigns’ website, or Skylight Books in Los Feliz.