West Hollywood has chosen its first poet laureate: Steven Reigns, an artist and nine-year resident of the Southern California city.
A special selection committee this week picked Reigns from a pool of candidates to "act as a champion for poetry, language, and the arts" and tasked him to "create a unique artistic legacy through public readings and civic interactions." The official induction will take place October 6, and Reigns will serve in this post for a term of two years.
"Big congratulations to Steven Reigns, an amazing poet and a terrific talent," said West Hollywood mayor John D'Amico at a recent council meeting. "Thank you for delivering to us yet another great level of culture and meaning to this city."
Well-regarded among his literary peers, Reigns' work is described by poet Sapphire as "brilliant and courageous act of truth telling and art." In a review of Reigns's latest book, Inheritance, luminary Mark Doty noted that "to read his book is to meet a man alert to his times and the textures of the lives around him, a community observed with tenderness, wit and pleasure."
Reigns has written six chapbooks and frequently conducts workshops with LGBT youth, seniors, and HIV-positive people. A weekly workshop, My Life Is Poetry, will launch October 9 at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
He is also participating in "The Adonis Project," a queer art show that opens Saturday at the Human Resources gallery in L.A.'s Chinatown. His past projects include "The Gay Rub," a gallery of rubbings of LGBT monuments and memorials that was profiled by OutTraveler.com earlier this year. His work will also be featured in an upcoming film by director Hunter Lee Hughes, Guys Reading Poems.
"I’m honored to be the first poet to be elected to this position," Reigns said. "Being elected city poet will assist me in helping more people experience the depth, pleasures, and rewards of poetry. My focus will be on community involvement and creating a more poetry-aware public."
In celebration of Reigns's achievement, read three poems by the new poet laureate of West Hollywood on the following pages. And find out more about the artist at StevenReigns.com.
You couldn’t have been the first
but that is how we know you.
Patient Zero, who started it all.
More like Ground Zero of the disease.
Cinema and history books have marked your name as a monster.
A French bomber detonating the disease
in each ass and mouth he encountered.
But I have more faith in humans than that; I have more faith in you.
A man with only one public photo, your blond hair
swirling above your head like Einstein.
I tracked down that photo,
wanted to see who was to blame, who was responsible
for the deaths of my friends.
And there you were,
looking like you had been captured by the shutter
while on an amusement ride.
I kept staring at you, your toxic body long departed from earth.
I kept staring and felt sadness that we’ve rewritten your history.
How could you have known, as a lover,
that while you wooed them with your accent and charms
while you gave pleasure, that you were also killing.
Planting poisons that they’d share with others.
I think of you standing at the front of a plane,
your stewards uniform pressed and crisp,
You pointing with two fingers to the exits and aisle lights,
you miming how to use the oxygen mask and life vest.
I like this image, you were interested in saving lives,
You liked to serve and please.
That is what you did,
offered love wrapped in barbed wire, not knowing
and the unknowing is why
I forgive you.
*French-Canadian flight attendant and extensive world traveler Gaëtan Dugas was labeled in 1982 as “Patient Zero” for AIDS (then known as GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dugas was connected sexually to 41 of the first 248 reported cases in the U.S. and nine of the first 19 cases in Los Angeles. By his own estimation, he had intercourse with 250 partners a year until his death on March 30, 1984.
I read his obituary.
Not only will he never
breathe, eat, or sleep,
he will never fuck.
I remember the hot tub,
his wandering hands
and I feel honored
to have shared that with him.
I’ve shared sex
with so many
that are now dead,
been there to give a moment of pleasure
to a shortened life.
Knowing them in ways
their mourning mothers couldn’t have known.
Knowing their bodies
not like the back of my hand or hometown
but as a quick destination I’d visit
for adventure, excitement, ejaculation.
I knew their bodies
when they had pulses,
when their heartbeats quickened
and their chests heaved
with the intensity of orgasm.
To desire them now feels odd
as the very vessel
I lusted for decomposes.
And when one of our sexual scenes
flashes through my mind during masturbation,
I appease my guilt,
that this is a way I knew them.
An ex-lover’s way
of honoring the dead
and honoring the places I touched
that cannot be touched again.
One of these days, Alice
America watched as
he told her in fits of rage where he’d send her,
where she’d travel,
and we sat back and laughed.
He was going to send her to the moon,
the man who had no connections to NASA.
The woman who had no desire for flight,
no astrological ambitions
except marrying to cure cosmic loneliness.
Her ticket to travel was his punch.
The conductor apprenticed under his father,
a man who gave his wife weekly boarding passes
for burnt dinners, overspending, being demanding.
Their marriage was no honeymoon
as young girls watched,
housewives cooked dinner,
and young boys dreamed of moon travel.