New poet laureate already putting pen to paper

Stephen Haas/The News-Gazette via AP

Will Reger, the inaugural City of Urbana poet laureate, writes in his notebook at West Side Park in Champaign. The former Illinois State history professor and Champaign resident was recently introduced as the city of Urbana's first-ever poet laureate.

URBANA, Ill. -- Will Reger learned early on in life that one of his passions wouldn't pay the bills.

The rough news came courtesy of his mother, after young Will had taken such a liking to poetry that he was looking forward to doing it full-time.

"My mom teased me because I asked if I could make a living as a poet," Reger said. "Poetry is not a career option."

Decades later, the next-best thing happened to the former Illinois State history professor and Champaign resident, who recently was introduced as the city of Urbana's first-ever poet laureate.

The one-year term only pays a $2,000 honorarium but was sought by many, officials said, making for a competitive application and interview process.

Reger was ultimately selected by a panel of literary experts, who were impressed with the "good energy" Mayor Diane Marlin cited, among other things.

"The city of Urbana will benefit from Will's steadfast commitment to supporting local writers and advancing poetry projects in the community," Marlin said.

While admitting he's "not used to the attention" that came with the announcement, Reger is eager to get started.

In his new role, he'll have the opportunity to see through projects he proposed to help highlight poetry in Urbana and develop a love for creative writing.

He'd like to see deeper collaborations between Urbana's various poetry scenes, improved showcases of poetry through public readings and visual displays, opportunities for those affected by war and or incarceration to put their experiences into words, and a new competition for young poetry writers.

And that's just for starters.

He also hopes to work with local schools to introduce more poetry and diversify the offerings in libraries and bookstores.

"You can get the usual, such as the works of Homer, but not much else," he said. "They're not diverse."

The biggest hurdle to accomplishing it all? "I only have a year to do all of this," Reger said.

Reger received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois before embarking on a teaching career. It wasn't until 2010 that he began to write poetry again.

A composer friend had reached out and asked if Reger had any lyrics for a song she was writing. Reger gave her one of his older poems, which was used in the award-winning song.

And suddenly, he was back.

His advice for those anyone to get started in poetry? Always have a pen and notebook handy, so you can jot down your thoughts as they come to you.

"Write for yourself first and then gain the confidence to share it with others," he said. "If you want to write poetry, just write poetry."

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