The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 3B
The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Thursday, October 16, 2008 - 38
Contemplating the lost
art of letter writing
He was a poet with a his-
tory of manic episodes,
"very handsome and
handsome in an almost old-fash-
way," as she
was a fellow
writer, a few KIMBERLY
years older CHOU
than him, an
on-and-off-again alcoholic who
. asked him to write an epitaph for
her, "the loneliest person who
For much of their decades-
long friendship, he was in love
with her (and once almost pro-
posed), and she was mostly in
love with other women. But amid
marriages and hospitalizations,
if one thing remained constant
in Robert Lowell's and Elizabeth
Bishop's relationship, it was let-
Farrar, Straus & Giroux has
published "Words in Air: The
between Elizabeth Bishop
and Robert Lowell," edited by
Thomas Travisano with Saskia
Hamilton. The book consists of
458 letters, more than 300 of
them previously unpublished. To
quote critic Christopher Benfey's
review in The New Republic,
it's a chronicle that's "part long-
distance romance, part artistic
collaboration, part AA meeting."
A clever way to describe it,
and fitting, too: In "Words on
Air" you can read critiques of
each other's work, advice and
confessions of more difficult
times (such as Lowell's manic
episodes), as well as more light-
hearted correspondence (like
Bishop's letter on buying "speedy
looking cars that I can drive very
slowly."). For old romantics, the
letters that will likely be most
memorable are those in which
the two talk of what never hap-
"I do think free will is sewn
into everything we do; you can't
cross a street, light a cigarette,
drop saccharine in your coffee
without really doing it," Lowell
awrote in a letter to Bishop 10
years after they met. "Yet the
say to e
e alternatives that life zones more easily than handwrit-
us are very few, often ing does. But we sacrifice the
sust be none. I've never deliberation and deeper thought
t there was any choice for built into the process of compo-
ut writing poetry.... But sition because of the change in
you (to marry me) is the self-revision - you cannot press
save been for me, the one "DELETE" when you write in
ng change, the other life pen. And what about the sus-
ght have been had." pense that usually accompanies
sother letter, Bishop the wait for a package or letter,
ed she would have said yes. once you know it's on its way; or
ell wrote the poem even the sense of surprise? It's an
about an afternoon unmatched feeling, to receive a
e and Bishop went swim- "Greetings from ..." postcard and
nd talked on a slab of rock, know the sender cared enough to
n in their friendship. It remember your address.
day, according to Benfey, Plus, asa method of wooing,
shop requested her epi- letter-writing has a long history:
Napoleon and Josephine, Simone
wished our two souls de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sar-
st return like gulls tre, Carrie Bradshaw and Mr.
e rock. In the end, Big in that hackneyed "Sex and
water was too cold for the City" movie. Sartre believed
seduction and writing were
Google keep our electron- rooted in the same intellectual
ives like this, to be found process; with that thought, per-
er bound in 800-page haps there is hope yet for texting.
s (or at least starred and Nigerian entrepreneur Femi
n a folder), long after we're Emmanuel, recently profiled by
Even with love stories that BBC, has sold thousands of cop-
lly more than anything, ies of his book series "Touching
tween friends (as Lowell's the Heart Through Unforget-
hop's turned out to be), table Text Messages." The books,
we preserve the words we available in four volumes, help
ach other? lovers with pre-written messages
be we establish the same such as this one:
e now through e-mails "I swear, I will make sure I
tant messages and Skype. give you HIV. H is for.Happiness
vonderfulyou are, Dear, and joy forever with an I: Incom-
parable love that will never V:
Vanish until death do us part. I
hnology can't love you."
0.7It's not quite the same as souls
uite capture returningto roost like gulls.
I only hope that, one day, elec-
e romance of tronic correspondence between
poetic partners will be recovered
ritten letters. through text-filtering for words
like "love," "senses in turmoil"
and "Remind me - what's that
Bishop villanelle again?"-Until
w won4erful that you leave then, I'll continue to pen Face-
sages on AIM..." Maybe book messages and quick e-mails
ith a text message (thank- out of convenience, keeping the
are, those of us with idea of letter-writing in the back
ted international mes- of my mind until I finally go out
and a few scattered key and choose the right envelopes,
s with T9-word we are stationery and postage stamps.
send thoughts anywhere And then I'll write, hoping
world. Across town, to the recipient writes back - or
irg, somewhere in Brazil. responds with a text.
The State Theater shows an old classic every Saturday at midnight.
From Page 1B
(1980) and the exemplary "Rocky
Horror." But the actual criteria for
a midnight movie has never been
Samantha Etters, one of the co-
presidents of M-Flicks, a student
group funded by the University
Activities Center that sets up free
screenings of popular films around
campus, seemed hesitant to define
the term. Concerning "Donnie
Darko," a State Theater staple,
Etters said, "It's very unique I
guess. A lot of movies with a cult
following are ... not always to
the point. It taps into that weird
human questioning. Personally, I
didn't understand that movie."
But whether they're actually
understood or not, these films
continue to find audiences thanks
to theaters like the State.
"It's an excellent idea to show
lesser known films," said Andy
Rasmussen, the other co-presi-
dent of M-Flicks. "It started off as
the only way to show them. The
theaters wouldn't normally show
something like 'Pink Flamingos,'
but they could show it during a
midnight screening. Often times
the classic midnight movies are
the films you wouldn't normally
see ina theater."
Even so, the number of people
the midnight screenings will
attract is always in question.
As Milks described it, select-
ing which films to show is like
"throwing things on the wall and
seeing what sticks." Sometimes
the movies bomb, sometimes not.
Milks was shocked, for example,
by how well "Shaun of the Dead"
(2004) was received when it was
shown during a midnight screen-
ing. ("I knew it was popular, but I
didn't know it was that popular,"
he said.) On the other hand, the
screening of "Ali" (2001), Michael
Mann's biopic of boxer Muham-
mad Ali, drew an audience of 3
Sometimes the staff of the State
Theater encounters other prob-
lems. Milks's biggest disappoint-
ment is that he didn't get to show
"The Boondock Saints," the 1999
crime film starring Willem Dafoe
("Spider-Man"). According to the
studio that distributed the film,
all of the 35 mm prints had been
melted - a major problem, as the
State Theater can only show 35
Other films initially selected
for midnight screenings that fell
through the cracks due to various
reasons include John Carpenter's
"Escape from New York" (1981)
and John Woo's "Hard-Boiled"
On the other hand, Milks
was happy he was able to show
Akira Kurosawa's . samurai clas-
sic "Yojimbo" (1961), noting that
"classic cinema has just as much a
place asa cult movie."
And perhaps that's the greatest
aspect of this tradition: Through
its screening of midnight movies
every Saturday night, the State
Theater has helped to strengthen
the culture of film-watching on
campus. As Milks illustrated,
midnight movies aren't just about
showing weird and obscure films
so that people can laugh at them;
they're also about introducing for-
gotten classics to those who may
not have even heard of them.
"(Ann Arbor) is a place where
there are a lot of different people
that like a lot of different thiugs,"
Etters said. "So I think it's a great
place for them to be showingmov-
ies like that."
Maybe that is the reason why
the State Theater has survived
for so long.
With the convenience of near-
there isa closeness gained;
images and voices transcend time
Chou wants you to write her
a love letter. -mail her yours
at kimherch dumichedu.
FINE ARTS k ErIW
By PRIYA BALI
Daily Arts Writer
"What we need is more people
who specialize in the impossible,"
Theodore Roethke once wrote.
Pulitzer Prize- A Celebration
and University of Theodore
alum, this may Roethke
stretching the OCt.17 at
boundaries 10 a.m.
of 20th cen- At the Rackham
tury American Ampitheatre
ing wide acclaim in his own time,
his work still holds cause for
revisiting. And with the recent
centenary of his birth, there is
no more appropriate time than
now to acknowledge his achieve-
ments. Tomorrow, faculty and
students will gather in Rackham
Amphitheatre to discuss his life
and creative works.
year when English Prof. Laurence
Goldstein teamed up with Creative
Writing Lecturer Keith Taylor and
decided to honor Roethke. Camille
Paglia, columnist for Slate.com
and author of "Break, Blow, Burn"
which discusses Roethke's poetry,
will deliver the keynote address.
As a controversialist, Paglia has
written on popular, political and
literary cultures since the 1990s
when she first stepped into the
Paglia will also participate in
the panel discussion with Tay-
lor, Creative Writing Prof. Laura
Kasischke and English Assistant
Prof. Gillian White.
William Bolcom, a Grammy-
winning composer and a School
of Music, Theatre and Dance
professor, is a former student of
Roethke. Bolcom will discuss the
influence of Roethke on his own
music and play various composi-
tions set to Roethke's poetry. The
event will conclude with readings
hke's work by students were paying attention to litera-
ulty. ture from all over the world, and
:e the poets of his time, those things would not have been
e borrowed from the available in Saginaw," Taylor
ic era's tendency to focus said.
re. As a native of Saginaw, As Roethke grew older, he
n reflected on the local began to suffer from manic
of his home where his depression. His mental illness is
naintained a greenhouse. reflected in many internal poems
e's outlook on the natu- of the late '40s and early '50s.
d is often combined with These poems later influenced
ional poetry's involve- confessional poets like Sylvia
ith the spiritual world, Plath, making it possible for oth-
sakes it especially unique ers to discuss personal issues in
fficult to classify. His their work.
isn't only diversified in Before returning to Ann Arbor
ect matter but in form as in the 1960s, Roethke taught at
e experimented with lyric Michigan State University, Penn-
sylvania State University and the
University of Washington.
"There is a regional impor-
tudents and tance for something like this to
remind people that real work can
culty gather be done no matter wherethey are;
they don't have to go elsewhere or
pay tribute to abandon things," Taylor said.
The transcendence of Roeth-
ragic poet. ke's poetry across geographical
boundaries and time is evidence
of this. Tomorrow's event will be
a chance to experience just how
love poems and children's far his poetry has entered the
frequently incorporating larger cultural world and how
rhymes. grounded it has remained locally.
"It is intensely moving, for one,
and very skilled," White said. "It
draws on a mix of influences to
explore personal material and to
describe and honor the natural
"His work explores the uncon-
scious and scenes of childhood to
achieve an expressive poetry that
marks a self's effort to connect to
forces larger than the self or its
local conditions," she said.
As an undergraduate and grad-
uate student at the University in
the late 1920s and early '30s, one
may see Ann Arbor as the place in
which Roethke's evolvement as a
poet took place.
"When Roethke came to Ann
Arbor, he met people from all
over the word and people who
Thursday, Nov.20 IBRESLIN
8:00 PIVISTUDENT EVENTS CENTER
Online: breslincenter.com / Phone: 1-800-968-BRES
Campusconsciousness.org I ofarevolution.com