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Archive for February, 2018

Last week or so we bid our final goodbyes to Lili Bita who died in a tragic accident.  Lila was a talented actress, writer, and pianist who I knew through my partner Barbara McPherson who drummed with Lili at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival for nearly twenty-years. The following is an early collaboration between Lili and Barbara in Lili’s production of Medea.

Below the YouTube video is a creative obituary and a poem that I received on a poetry e-mail list. You can scroll down to read more.

 

 

Lili Bita, a prominent figure in Philadelphia’s cultural life for more than thirty years as an author and actress and whose career won international acclaim, passed away on February 12.  Lili, a native of Greece, emigrated to the United States after performing leading roles on the Greek stage, including ancient drama, Shakespeare, Ibsen, O’Neill, and others.  With her one-woman shows, “The Greek Woman Through the Ages,” “Body Light,” and “Freedom or Death,” she toured widely in America and abroad, and as Artistic Director of the Theater Cooperative, which she founded with her husband and collaborator, Robert Zaller, she was a fixture for nearly two decades at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.  The Greek government sent her to India in 1995 as an ambassador of Hellenism, and in 2014 she was inducted into the Hellenic Authors Society, the oldest and most prestigious literary organization in Greece, in recognition of her lifetime achievement.

Lili was the author of a score of books of verse, fiction, memoir, and literary translation, which won praise from such figures as Nikos Kazantzakis and Anais Nin.  Her last six books, including her collected love poems, Fleshfire, were published by Somerset Hall Press of Boston, from which they are available.  Commemorative events for Lili are being planned for the Rotunda, the Manayunk Arts Center, and other venues.

 Lili was a figure admired and beloved in equal measure, and her passion for life, love, and the exercise of her art was equaled as well by her care, kindness, and generosity of heart and spirit.  The poem she concluded all her public readings with was “Credo”:

The young pines
guard the narrow path
to the grotto.
The sea greets us with a blast of emerald
and a hidden tremor of wings.
The air is vivid with dawn.
You slide into my crotch.
A wave breaks over my breasts.
Slow poison bleeds into my veins.

When I was a girl
I believed that men and women
copulate only once
because their ecstasy
must kill them.
The stones grind into my back.
Nakedness is not enough.
The spilled entrails
the crushed bones
the blood and urine mixed
and drunk into the earth
would not be enough.

Before I knew
the facts of life
I believed that men and women
copulate only once
and die of their pleasure.

Make me believe it again.

 

lili bita darkness

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Note:  this review is being aired this week on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out, headquartered in Los Angeles. To listen to the entire news wrap, click here.

One evening before a local class that I teach, I was telling an adult student that I review LGBT books.  I live in a very diverse area where it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re gay and I’ve been coming out to my students for so long that it feels like breathing.

This particular student was a little different than the others. She was around my age – so if she had done her homework or at least paid attention over the years – she would have known that they was a time not so long ago when coming out was not so easy.

She sniffed (in a way that let me know she didn’t have a cold) and responded, “Really – only LGBT books? –“  then without pausing, she added (rather disdainfully I thought), “I guess that’s your thing.”

pride parade black and whiteWhat I didn’t say to my student is that I find LGBT books to be more interesting. I want to know how people survive – and often thrive — outside the box in a culture that is based on conformity.  I didn’t say this, because my student might find to be a defensive statement.  Maybe it is.  Perhaps it is because I am a lesbian that I find diversity to be more interesting. I am the first to admit that I like to see myself reflected on the page.  But I am also captivated by the lives of imaginary characters who are different than me.

Recently, I opened the pages of a book that had come across my desk and was reminded of this. The book is titled Acquaintance, a novel (part of Medicine for the Blues trilogy) and is by Jeff Stookey (PictoGraph Publishing in Portland Oregon, 2017). The book is a historical novel set in the early 1920s and the protagonist is a doctor who happens to be gay and is complete with references to artistic giants and gay icons Eakins and Whitman.

It is a love story written in a time when gay love was clandestine. And as the author writes:

“Love stories get especially messy when the love is forbidden.  The story of Romeo and Juliet would have been a simple one is their families had not made their love dangerous.  But love will flourish, even when it is forbidden.”

In the novel, I learned about gay life way before the liberation of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. I also learned about the medical profession, fishing, Portland Oregon, music – especially jazz – and the origins of the Ku Klux Klan.  There’s an interesting subplot regarding the connection between racism and homophobia and another subplot addresses the realistically drawn lesbian couple in the narrator’s life – of whom he is jealous of before he settles down with his male partner. Acquaintance is a well-developed and interesting page-turner, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

So, as I answered my adult student, LGBT literature is “my thing.”  Not only does it contain our history, but it proves that yes, we do exist. And because of this, we make things more interesting.

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I had the honor of hearing my long time friend, the wise poet Maria Fama read from her most recent book — Other Nations an animal journal — last fall at The Free Library of Philadelphia — the Fumo Family Library branch.

I recorded two of the poems.  You can watch the video below.  The first poem is about whale watching and the second is about Maria’s family and history — and a rooster.

 

 

Other Nations poetry Maria Fama

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