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April 01, 1993 - Image 13

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1993-04-01

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The Michigan Daily-Weekend etc.-April 1, 1993-Page 3

Poet Rosser searches for the truth

by Joshua Keidan
One question people frequently ask J. Allyn
Rosser is why she doesn't sign her first name to her
poems (for the curious --Jill). "My mother gave me
my middle name, which was the name of her best
friend who was apoet who died at aboutmy age. She
never got her first book out and never really had a
chance to make good. I feel a little bit like I'm
holding the torch for her - it's my nod to all the
poetry I've ever read and how I depend on that to
generate the kind of poetry that I'm writing," Rosser
Rosser, whose first book of poetry, "Bright
Moves," received wide critical acclaim upon publi-
cation in 1990, dislikes trying to pin down her
writing style. "I tend to write in all different sorts of
forms - free verse, sonnets, villanelles, depending
on whatthe subjects seem to want to be in," she said,
Still, if her style varies from poem to poem, her
poems are connected by one main concern. "I guess
in general, I tend to be most interested in how your
perspective changes something thathappens to you."
Rosser uses poetry to examine this phenomenon
because of her faith in its ability to connect with
some universal truth."There's a sort of mineral vein
that connects us all underground, and we don't
always know what it is, but somehow in poetry it's
present."When writing, she said, "you don't want to
feel that you're describing, but that you're shooting
an arrow right into the heart of something that

happens to all of us."
In "The City Underneath," the first poem from
"Bright Moves," Rosser points the reader toward
this vein:
"Stand very still some coolish evening. / See if
you can't gasp the extra galaxy past/the last one
visible on clearest nights - don't look
foranything./Letyoureyes go completely outof
your head. /
Just make sure it's dark, cool. Stand very still. /
Look at me,
my eyes, if thatwill help./The words Ireally want
to say to you
are under these."
Currently teaching at the University, Rosser tries
to connect with this universal truth in her classes as
well as her writing. "When you're teaching a really
great poem you feel like you have to somehow
convey how that poem is apart of this great truth that
we all share, and that's exhausting." Despite the
exhaustion, she's enjoying her time here in Ann
Arbor, although she was reluctant to say more on this
subject, for fear of appearing to brown nose her
Before arriving inAnn Arbor, Rosser attended the
University of Pennsylvania, where she received her
doctorate in 1991, with a dissertation on Henry
James and Samuel Beckett. Of Beckett, who is also
the subject of a recent poem, she said, "When I read
his trilogy I was so amazed - I finally found

someone whose sense of humor exactly matched;
mine. Although I think his poetry is pretty awful, his
prose is so poetic that it doesn't matter. "
Asked about other writers who have influenced
her, Rosser, mentioned Elizabeth Bishop, Alfred"
Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth. However,
she said, "There's not a single writer who I've read
with any interest who hasn't influenced me. I think'
I've been more influenced by individual poems than.
by poets."
Whether teaching or writing, Rosser is deeply
concerned with the idea of connection. Outside of
academic interests, "I've always been fascinated by
foreign languages. If I'm on an elevator somewherer
and two people are talking in a language I don't:
know - it drives me crazy. I want to learn every-
foreign language there is so that no one will ever be
speaking in front ofime and I won't be understanding
them. It's a real hunger for communication that L
guess is the reason I turn to-poetry.
"I have a nose flute that hangs on my wall -it's
something I got in the Philippines - and I like
having it up there partly because it reminds me of
something I will neverknowhow to do. Iknow I will
never be able to play this instrument, and there's
something really calming about that-here's some-
thing I'll never be able to do, and that's okay."
JILL ALLYNROSSER will readfrom her poetry
today at 5p.m. at Rackham Amphitheatre.
Admission is free.

Dustin Hoffman has only gotten better since his "Midnight Cowboy" days.
Huck Finn Goes To NYC

by Jon Altshul
Two years ago, when "My Own
Private Idaho" was all the rage, film
critics seemed to have caught amnesia.
Though superbly acted andambitiously
crafted, the seamy, sobering film was
dubbed "original." Few cinematic epi-
thets have ever been more undeserving.
Twenty-two years prior, when even

'The Graduate" was deemed risqud,
Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman created
perhaps the most provocative, sicken-
ing and endearing relationship in mo-
tion picture history. The film: "Mid-
night Cowboy." The rating: "X."
Filmed in a dirty New York City
milieu, the picture delved into a taboo,
enigmatic cross section of 1969
America, replete with homosexuality,
starvation and the most acute sense of
isolation. Gritty and honest as any so-
called "buddy film" ever made, "Mid-
night Cowboy" ultimately provided a
catalyst for such impending urban night-
mares as "Taxi Driver" and "Mean
The picturebegins awkwardly 2,000
miles outside of New York in a haunt-
ingly rural Texas burg. The camera fo-
cuseson aboisterous Joe Buck (Voight).
His naive southern smile compliments
his bleached hair perfectly, though his
Paul Newman imitation seems stylized.
Yet such contrived mannerisms seem
fitting for his character. He is, or so we
are lead to believe, a dumb, boring hick.
But Joe wants more. Enter New York

Accompanied only by his radio -
presumably his only valve for commu-
nication andhisstrongestdefenseagainst
loneliness-he travels across acountry
he's never seen before. Aboard the bus
his warm, friendly questions are shunned
by frightened travelers. Essentially,
America is presented as a cold, foreign,
inconsistentcountry (Ala"HuckFinn"),
while Joe is the idealized individual,
bereft of family, friends, or direction.
But as we get closer to New York
City, a recurring pattern of flashbacks
enters the frame. Horrible and claustro-
phobic, they provide a network into
Joe's suddenly tormenting past. Hence,
the story serves as Joe's essential escape
from himself.
What follows is a film deeply tex-
tured in sentiment. In New York, Joe
befriends Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman), a
sickly "cripple." Hoffman's Charlie
Babbitt-like delivery provides the per-
fect foil for Voight's naivet6. Their rela-
tionship becomes, initially, one of de-
pendence. Both are unhirable and so-
cially expendable, and each seeks in the
other araison d'tre. Wallowing in pov-
erty, Joe sells himself to young boys as
a means of protecting his deteriorating
"Midnight Cowboy" holds the dubi-
ous distinction of being the only Best
Picture recipient ever to have been rated
"X." Though by contemporary gauges
the rating seems unfair (it is probably
merely a reaction against the film's de-
piction of homosexuality), the picture is
nevertheless wildly disturbing. Like
"My Own Private Idaho," it presents a
strangely de-romanticized glimpse into
the American consciousness. It repre-
sents such a powerful, original water-
shed point in cinematic history that it
can't be missed.
MIDNIGHT COWBOY is available
at Liberty Street Vdeo.

by Megan Abbott
Movie fans have always had a love-
hate relationship with the Academy
Awards. Seldom does the self-styled
movie buff express more grief or ire
than when the golden statuette is passed
into undeserving palms, while the greats
of the industry go home empty-handed.
Danny Peary, author of "Cult Mov-
ies" and "Cult Movie Stars," attempts
Danny Peary
Alternate Oscars
Delta Publishing
to correct the massive injustices of the
Oscar tradition with his new work,
"Alternate Oscars." This film-lover's
siren call is a year-by-year revisionist
take on the Best Picture /Actor/Actress
winners, with Peary offering his opin-
ion of who really should have taken
home the glimmering statuette.
Peary would probably be the first to
admit the sheer egocentrism involved
in his task. To assume your choices are
categorically superior is one thing, but
to present them as such to the book-
reading world is quite another. How-
ever, Peary tries to be fair, spreading the
wealth judiciously, and occasionally
even agreeing with the Academy. And
many ofhis revisions merely echo grow-
ing popular opinion, such as dubbing
Martin Scorsese's lyric "Raging Bull"
the runaway best film of 1980 -send-
ing the well-meaning-but-sloshy "Or-
dinary People" sprawling out of the

But Peary also gives many great
works and actors their final due. Seeing
"The Searchers" top "Around the World
in Eighty Days" is no less than life-
affirming, as is seeing underrated acting
talents like Joe Mantegna ("House of
Games), Tuesday Weld ("Pretty Poi-
son"), Lili Taylor ("Dogfight"), Gary
Oldman ("State of Grace") and Gloria
Grahame ("The Big Heat") recognized.
Unfortunately, there is an inherent
problem with Peary's revisionism. To
the average public, his choices seem
justas arbitraryas theAcademy's. More-

over, Peary's insistence on focusing on
the physical attributes of the female
actors - without extending the cour-
tesy to their male counterparts - is
distracting and unproductive. And do
we really need to hear how Peary sees
Ingrid Bergman (in "Notorious")as the
embodiment of sex, or how sexually-
repressed certain female characters are
(Isabella Adjani in "The Story of Adele
H.," Jean Arthur in "The More the Mer-
rier" and Sissy Spacek in "Carrie" just
to name a few)? This we can surely do
But the entertainment value of "Al-
temateOscars"isstillquitehigh. Peary's
earnest writing style, combined with
the level of research he incorporates
into it, reveals the seriousness with which
he takes his "mission." Though a little
humorous invective directed against the
Academy would have been nice, Peary's
sober, clear-eyed approach offers a dis-
tinct challenge to the Academy that is
quite convincing, even when you dis-
agree with his revisionist selections.
In Peary's introduction, he writes

that the goal of the bookis not to present
his choices as definitive, but instead he
wishes to provoke discussions and even
some "angry mail." "Alternate Oscars"
surely provides the stuff that good de
bates are made of, even if you cannot
bear his assertion that, say, "The Front ".
is a better film than "Taxi Driver" ...
1ffOn selce
4 :;
* -Ia
off on elect'

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