Reading with... Steven Reigns

photo: Gabriel Goldberg

Steven Reigns, Los Angeles poet and educator, was appointed the first Poet Laureate of West Hollywood. He is the author of two collections, Inheritance and Your Dead Body Is My Welcome Mat, and more than a dozen chapbooks. Reigns edited My Life Is Poetry, showcasing his students' work from the first autobiographical poetry workshop for LGBTQ seniors. Reigns has lectured and taught writing workshops around the country to LGBTQ youth and people living with HIV. He is touring The Gay Rub, an exhibition of rubbings from LGBTQ landmarks around the world, and has a private practice as a psychotherapist. His latest book is A Quilt for David (City Lights, September 14, 2021), the hidden history of a gay doctor whose life and death were turned into tabloid fodder in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

On your nightstand now:

Firebrat by Mike Diana. I know, I know, it's not the book one might expect a poet to have on their nightstand. Diana's work is wonderfully outrageous and unexpected and bizarre. It's also fascinating that he's the only artist in America to receive a criminal conviction for artistic obscenity. The book I'm reading after is Amy Gerstler's Index of Women.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I dearly loved The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I now owe so many personal therapy hours to deprogramming the terrible codependent messaging it implanted.

Your top five authors:

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore--I can always count on Mattilda's writing to spark new thoughts, ideas and recalibrate my emotions.

Natalie Goldberg--we were all introduced to her through her breakout book, Writing Down the Bones. While that has continually been in print and still selling wildly, she's been writing these incredible memoirs and other books about writing and painting. Check out Long Quiet Highway, Wild Mind and her brand new book, Three Simple Lines

David Trinidad--David's poetry is loaded with pop culture but well-crafted and with heart. He's also a great champion of writers, editing and publishing poets who have passed too early or gone out of print. The poetry community is better because of him.

Collin Kelley--I feel like we share so many sensibilities and interests; his poems are a joy to read. He's been threatening a new and selected collection, which I'd love to happen.

Anaïs Nin--the world opened to me when I first discovered her writing.

Book you've faked reading:

Moby-Dick. I never finished it. At page 90 they hadn't even left port. I didn't have the patience for it 25 years ago and haven't picked it up since. In Pam Houston's debut, Cowboys Are My Weakness, there's a character who falsely tells men at bars about how she once rode a mechanical bull and won. She's told the story so many times she almost believes it to be true. I feel that way about Moby-Dick. It's easy to forget I haven't read the entire thing.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The most recent book I've preached is Julie E. Bloemeke's Slide to Unlock. It's a collection about love and longing without being overly sentimental or sappy. During the pandemic I kept giving it out as gifts.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson, published by the Peter Pauper Press in the late '50s. On the cover and throughout are these beautiful red/orange inked woodcuts by Jeff Hill. They have such a midcentury modern feel to them and could easily be framed artwork on the wall.

Book you hid from your parents:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (but Were Afraid to Ask) by Dr. David Reuben. I bought it at a used book sale at age 15. The title was appealing, but more than sex itself, I really wanted to know about being gay and gay sex. Homosexuals had over 40 entries in the index. At home, in my bedroom, I went directly to page 129, the section on homosexuals. The book had lines like "The homosexual who prefers to use his penis must find an anus. Many look in the refrigerator. The most common masturbatory object for this purpose is a melon. Cantaloupes are usual, but where it is available, papaya is popular." Gay men regularly have sex with fruit?!?! This book is where I got the biggest miseducation on gay life that I could have ever received.

Book that changed your life:

Sapphire's American Dreams really rocked my world. Her honesty, daringness and ability to hold complexities was refreshing. She used different forms and told hard truths. That book still holds up, and so do her subsequent books.

Favorite line from a book:

"The truth is simple, you do not die from love. You only wish you did." --Erica Jong from Becoming Light

Five books you'll never part with:

The Diary of Anaïs Nin by Anaïs Nin
Love Poems by Anne Sexton
Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara
How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco
Truth Serum by Bernard Cooper

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I would love to again feel the awe and exhilaration I felt when first reading the anthology High Risk: An Anthology of Forbidden Writings, edited by Amy Scholder and Ira Silverberg. What's thrilling is that Amy Scholder is my editor for A Quilt for David. The publishing of this book feels very full circle for me. I remember picking up High Risk from the St. Louis Public Library and devouring it in the living room on a papasan chair (didn't everyone have one of those chairs in the '90s?). I wanted to be a writer like those in the book I was holding.

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