Monthly Archives: August 2009

Our Most Famous (and Most Misread) Poem

  Today I walk into my first classes after a year of sabbatical.  After having spent all day Friday meeting with new entering students and hearing about their  momentous decision (as they see it) to attend St. Mary’s, it makes sense for me to write on decision making. In what is arguably America’s most famous poem is about […]

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One Kiss, My Bonnie Sweetheart

When my wife and I leave the house in the morning, I will sometimes call out to her, “One kiss, my bonnie sweetheart” and we will embrace before going our separate ways.   I suspect you recognize the line, which is from one of the English language’s most beloved poems, Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman.” I write […]

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You Don’t Have to Read between the Lines

Robert Scholes tells us to teach biography and historical context and the poems will become clear.

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Through Novels We Practice Being Human

    My friend Rachel Kranz and I have been talking and e-mailing about the value of novel reading, always a useful topic to revisit.  Rachel is as thoughtful as anyone I know on the subject—she is a novelist as well as a novel reader so she has a double perspective.  Leaps of Faith (Farrar […]

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Why Didn’t Poetry Save Neil from Suicide?

Yesterday I wrote about how Dead Poets Society, despite its support for poetry, still doesn’t give poetry enough credit and that Keating is the coin side of J. Evans Pritchard.  Whereas Pritchard wants to graph literary excellence on a Cartesian plane, Keating (at least in the scenes we see, which are all we have to […]

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Dead Poets Changing Lives

  I seem to be returning to my childhood in recent posts, what with all my references to Sewanee, Tennessee.  In my last entry I showed literary scholar Robert Scholes blaming Allen Tate, a poet and critic with close ties to Sewanee, for the abysmal state of American literature instruction.  To balance Tate out, my launching […]

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Saving Poetry from English Teachers

Poetry used to play a much larger role in our culture than it does today.  That, at any rate, is the opinion of literary scholar Robert Scholes in his wonderfully provocative The Crafty Reader (Yale, 2001).  Scholes’ book is provocative in part because of where he puts the blame:  “I would like to suggest that […]

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Alan’s Cancer vs. an Exquisite Corpse

Colleagues of my friend Alan Paskow held another one of our salons Monday night.  Alan is a former professor of philosophy at St. Mary’s College, now retired, who currently has cancer in his lungs.  We have been meeting once a month or so to show our support and to generally reaffirm how important community is.  Monday […]

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Poetry vs. the Decline of Civilization

  I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion this past weekend and marveling yet again at his ability to pull me into his stories about the Lake Woebegone citizenry.  His account of a school field trip may have been a summer repeat—I’m not sure because I came into the program late.  In any […]

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Lifting Ev’ry Voice in Church

  Let me end this series of posts concerning racism in America on an up note.  This past Sunday I was singing in the Trinity Episcopal Church choir (in St. Mary’s City, Maryland) and we concluded the service with a rousing rendition of hymn 599, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the black […]

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Nuanced Race Talk Savaged by a Cleaver

Given the uptick in racist language and increased enrollment in white supremacist groups since Barack Obama’s election, I’m going to devote one or two more posts to racism in America and then give the subject a rest for a bit.  Today I want to return to my shift from southern race relations to northern when […]

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Redemption through Interracial Friendship

  I write today about the father of Andre Dubus III, whose House of Sand and Fog I looked at last week.  The elder Andre Dubus, now dead, is one of my favorite short story writers, and his novella Deaths at Sea came to my aid when I felt twisted and turned by racial tension.  I […]

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How Racism Sullies Everything

If race has been the subject of these past two weeks of posting it is because, as a Sherrilyn Ifil article notes in the on-line publication Root, we are having a hard time talking about race this summer, what with the furor over the Sonia Sotomayor nomination and the Henry Louis Gates affair.  I haven’t […]

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Mockingbird’s Race Limitations

  An interesting Malcolm Gladwell article in the most recent New Yorker has complicated my views of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which I posted on last week.  I now better understand why the book, while a comfort to me as a child going through the desegregation battles, proved so inadequate when I went […]

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Dying Miserably for Lack of Poetry

Today I want to thank Chris Kalb, whose artwork on this blog was installed yesterday.  And also to thank Discovering Oz, my son and his wife’s marketing company, which gave me the idea for setting up this website and blog and then helped me carry it out.   In the illustration you see before you, the […]

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Is Obama an Allworthy or a Beowulf?

Like many supporters of health care reform, I am distressed by what I see as right-wing attempts to disrupt civil discussions on the matter.  Practically no one disputes that we are facing a financial crisis over health care costs and health care coverage.  My own 27-year-old son and his wife, who have just started a […]

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Blessing the Boats at St. Mary’s

I know the last few posts have been tough—race is never easy to talk about, even when doing so makes us feel better than trying to ignore it. To end the week on a lighter note, I feature a poem of grace. It is by Lucille Clifton, St. Mary’s emeritus professor and author of the […]

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“Even the Best” Whites Don’t Get Race

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that a noted poet once mentioned me in a poem critical of whites. The poet is Lucille Clifton, formerly a colleague at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, now retired. The poem appeared in her book quilting. I’ll quote the poem and then give the backstory: note to my self it’s […]

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Sand and Fog in the Gates Affair

Police intimidation in House of Sand and Fog   The House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III, came out in 1999, was a National Book Award finalist, became an Oprah selection, and was turned into a film.  I mention it here because it gets at the way that cultural differences and misunderstandings, combined with […]

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Desegregation Tales from My Childhood

  I mentioned yesterday the debt I owe to the NAACP, which this year is celebrating its 100-year anniversary.  Today I will talk about some of my past history with the organization, along with a discussion of how Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird helped me in some difficult years during the Civil Rights era. I’ve […]

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Trapped in Race Narratives

  It’s not everyday that an affair involving an English professor is the hottest topic in the national news.  In this case, the Professor Henry Louis Gates/Officer James Crowley incident, where America’s leading black intellectual was mistaken for an intruder and arrested in his own home, trumped even the health care debate.   The fact that […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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