Lilies

LitWatch Monthly: Love and literature

February brings Valentine’s Day and an abundance of virtual literary events from lectures by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to workshops on the intimate act of letter writing

On December 16, 1884, Oscar Wilde penned to his wife, Constance Lloyd, a letter of both intoxicating literary prowess and heartfelt affection:

Dear and Beloved, Here I am, and you at the Antipodes. O execrable facts, that keep our lips from kissing, though our souls are one. What can I tell you by letter? Alas! nothing that I would tell you. The message of the gods to each other travel not by pen and ink and indeed your bodily presence here would not make you more real: for I feel your fingers in my hair, your cheek brushing mine. The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours. I feel incomplete without you. Ever and ever yours, Oscar.

Though now in the digital age of 2021, when letters such as this one are seldom delivered by post, Wilde’s words still deliver the vulnerable sentiment and beauty that they did in 1884. From Zelda Fitzgerald and Jack London to Simone de Beauvoir and Khalil Gibran, writers have injected poetry into their epistolary engagements, drawing from their literary muse and delighting the recipients who read them.

Oscar Wilde in 1884/Photograph by Napoleon Sarony

It is not necessary, however, to be a prolific author in order to write a compelling letter. An upcoming workshop presented by Literary Arts called Four Letters: The Epistolary Form seeks to teach exactly that. This four-session series, occurring on Thursday evenings from February 25 through March 18, was created for the letter-writing literary in each of us. Whether your writing experience consists of having published multiple novels or only scribbling phrases into the notes section of your smartphone, the class suggests letter writing as an inherently generous act that can be done by all. 

Continues…

The rhythm and meaning of Lilies

Fertile Ground 2021: Poet Joni Whitworth and filmmaker Hannah Piper Burns find the mythic amid the reality of Covid-19

Lilies, poet Joni Renee Whitworth tells us, contain multitudes of meaning. The flower is a mainstay in Greek and Chinese myths, as well as Easter ceremonies. It symbolizes, among other things, love, grief, femininity, and rebirth—all themes present in Whitworth’s filmed poem, Lilies, which premieres on Wednesday, Feb. 3, as a part of Fertile Ground’s online festival of new works. Festival projects remain available to stream for free through Feb. 15 on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.


ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021


Written and performed by Whitworth with video and sound by Hannah Piper Burns, Lilies is like opening a time capsule from the early days of the pandemic. “It’s like writing future history,” says Whitworth, who wrote the text last spring, when the rules for pandemic engagement were still setting in. “Once it changed from, ‘we’re home for two weeks,’ to, ‘we’re going to be in this for a while,’ there was just an energetic shift” – a shift, adds Whitworth, that was in stark contrast to the beautiful spring Portland was experiencing. “Nature was just merrily carrying along, and thriving,” Whitworth says. Lilies is their chronicle of that time. 

Image from Joni Renne Whitworth “Lilies.”

The poem—which Whitworth describes as loosely autobiographical—ruminates on the tragic weight of Covid-19 as well as the pandemic’s unexpected comforts. It moves between perspectives personal and global. Lilies begins in a place of calm. Whitworth opens with the line, “Of course, / lesbians have dreamt of this for years: / sleeping in late, / reading to each other, / fretting over the cat.” Elsewhere, Whitworth hears Pacific wrens singing by their quarantine window, and remarks, “I’ve worked two jobs as long as I can remember, / I’ve never been home to hear them.” In these scenes, Whitworth’s restrained diction aids their imagery—watching Lilies, I felt cozy.

But these silver linings come at a price. Whitworth calls our new world flat and declarative, “A refrigerated truck for the bodies,” where people’s voices lack inflection. Later, they remark that “War-ravaged Syria just reported its first COVID-19 death. / We’re here. We’re here.” For Whitworth, even the “upsides” of the pandemic resist that qualification. “Is it true / that by lessening pollution, / and workplace accidents, / this industrial slowdown is / sparing lives / as well as taking them? / I can’t follow that logic to its reasonable conclusion.” 

Continues…