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Book Club Mon Sep 16 2013

Dear Elizabeth Play Reading @ Poetry Foundation

Bishop_Lowell.jpg

It's an oft-repeated refrain these days, but it bears repeating nonetheless: the art of letter writing is slipping inexorably away from us, and in many ways--alas and alack!--it may be gone already. Future generations just won't be able to peruse a stack of Grandma and Grandpa's love letters. (Cue my cantankerous, pre-emptively elderly fist-shaking.) For the time being, however, all's not lost; we're still within striking distance of the days where handwritten letters were the standard, so they're still around to access and enjoy.

One such example, the 2008 book Words in Air, contains the years-long correspondence between the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. The two were true friends and artistic allies (long story short, they weren't romantically involved, although there was most certainly an element of the "what might have been" in their relationship) and their stream of back-and-forth epistles are a delight. They critique each other's work, trade life stories big and little, discuss literature and politics--all the while, their mutual affection shines through. At times it's difficult to read without beaming.

Enter the astonishing talents of playwright Sarah Ruhl (The Clean House, Eurydice, Passion Play) whose play Dear Elizabeth is inspired by this very correspondence. (Click here for a great interview with Ruhl about Dear Elizabeth from last December.) Ruhl, who started out as a poet herself, is uniquely suited to tell Bishop and Lowell's story. This Wednesday, September 18, and Thursday, September 19, at 7pm, the Poetry Foundation (61 West Superior Street, free admission) will present a staged reading of the play with the actors Mary Beth Fisher and Lance Baker, directed by Polly Noonan. Dear Elizabeth premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre last November and received a run earlier this summer at Berkeley Repertory Theater; this is its first official Chicago appearance.

Words in Air quotes Lowell in a letter to Bishop: "I think of you daily and feel anxious lest we lose our old backward and forward flow that always seems to open me up and bring me color and peace." Lowell and Bishop's lives weren't all color and peace; Lowell was married three times and struggled with manic depression, while Bishop battled alcoholism. However, they had each other. I recommend attending this reading and experiencing the friendship between these two giants of American poetry for yourself.

 
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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

Editor: Andrew Huff, ah@gapersblock.com
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