Joni Renee Whitworth is a poet and curator from rural Oregon. They have performed at The Moth, the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, and the Museum of Contemporary Art alongside Marina Abramovic. Whitworth served as the inaugural Artist in Residence at Portland Parks and Recreation, Poet in Residence for Oregon State University’s Trillium Project, and 2020 Queer Hero for the Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest. They are the founder of Future Prairie, a queer art museum. Learn more about (Her)oics.
What are a few of your favorite essay or memoir writers? Why or what do you love about their work?
I’m interested in themes of nature, future, family, and the neurodivergent body. Some of my favorite writers speak about the senses, healing, touch, and control. My practice is informed by queer mystics such as Carol Maso, Tove Jansson, and Saint Teresa of Ávila. Poetry offers body consciousness, physical devotion, and quiet time as central to a knowledge of ourselves and a higher power or sense of g?d. My writing is also influenced by Lilly and Lana Wachowski, Marina Abramovic, and Richard Bach. I love them for the way they combine in-depth research with playful language and impious, clever writing.
What are three things that got you through the pandemic?
I took intentional steps to safeguard and stabilize my Self and my family in terms of mental, physical, and spiritual health. Luckily we are relatively resilient people, but I tried to be attentive to cravings and negative behaviors, my own especially. Rationalizing rash decisions and making excuses for repeating negative patterns are big red flags. When I’m swimming in dangerous waters, I take immediate action to avoid setbacks and doomscrolling. I got strict around getting a solid eight hours of sleep. This is especially important for anyone who struggles with their mental health. I set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed goals. Stability and security have been so hard to find that I’ve taken solace in any tiny thing that feels good, real, true, and sure. Long walks helped.
I also found stability in maintaining a productive and dynamic routine. We’ve seen plenty of memes circulating about how you don’t have to do anything but rest during quarantine, how you don’t owe anything to anyone, etc. etc. but those sentiments don’t ring true for me. Self-care shouldn’t mean abdicating our commitments to each other. We can’t afford disorganization right now. I’m accountable to my community commitments, and I’m working on developing more robust networks for us.
Who has been an inspiration or mentor in your writing life?
I studied playwriting under Matthew Zrebski and Lauren Weedman, and both teachers were instrumental in helping me find my own style. Playwriting requires a certain immediacy that modern audiences are attuned to (and primed for) by new media. I’ve taken their teachings and extrapolated them to newer forms of storytelling, although my dream would be to write a full-length play someday. Zrebski’s work is community-based, studious, and serious, which I love and want to reflect in my plays and poems. Weedman is incredibly funny, and my writing is decidedly ~not~ funny, but her nuance and attention to detail taught me to be more aware of my environment. Often a place inspires a poem. A place can go so far as to write a poem for you, and all you have to do is stand there and listen and catch it.
Can you imagine this piece developing into a larger work?
Yes, and I am collaborating with a filmmaker friend, Hannah Piper Burns (she/her), to develop my piece into a film. Hannah is an extramundane anthropologist of our culture’s phenomena, detritus, kitsch, and trauma, working across time-based art, text, curation, and divination. She’s guided by the axioms “as above, so below” and “not either/or, but both and yes.” Her project-based multimedia practice evokes ambivalent embodiment, intimacy with complicity, and metaphysical mundanity. We have been having fun experimenting with different mediums and materials. We’re pulling from archival footage extracted from farm simulator games, archival agricultural footage, stock footage, domestic scenes, and psychedelic abstraction to depict acts of homemaking, homesteading, domestic minutiae, and femme competence. We are proud to be queer, femme, neurodivergent artists creating content that reflects our lived experience and intimate subjectivity. What we are working on is greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s what makes collaboration magical.
IG: @ filbertgoddex
Twitter: @ JoniWhitworth
Their writing has appeared in Lambda Literary, Tin House, Oregon Humanities, Proximity Magazine, Seventeen Magazine, Eclectica, Pivot, SWWIM, Smeuse, Superstition Review, xoJane, Inverted Syntax, Unearthed Literary Journal, Sinister Wisdom, Dime Show Review, and The Write Launch.