Monthly Archives: January 2010

Football Doggerel in Praise of the Colts

There’s no limit to the number of purposes to which poetry can be put, including a celebration of one’s favorite team.  Here’s a piece of doggerel–which is to say, light comic verse–that I’ve written in honor of the Indianapolis Colts, who will be playing in the up-coming Super Bowl.   I’ll annotate any obscure references […]

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Salinger and the Teenage Mindset

In my Introduction to Literature classes, I used to poll my students about the books they had read in high school that had impacted them.   One book above all made it to the top of list after list: J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.  I mention this because Salinger died yesterday at age 91. […]

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The Birds of War-Torn Afghanistan

I share today a poem by my father Scott Bates, who is an ardent birdwatcher as well as poet. The poem reminds us of an ongoing war that too often we want to push out of our minds. Through contrasting the natural world with the disasters created by humans, my father expresses his longing for […]

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Mess with Dionysus and You’ll Pay

Euripides’ The Bacchae was written 2500 years ago.  Given the shape our environment is in, the play is more urgent than ever. The story involves the nature god Dionysus, who visits Thebes followed by a troupe of dancing women, the Maenads or Bacchae.  Dionysus is the product of a union between Zeus and Semele, a […]

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Brett Favre and the Poetics of Failure

Brett Favre  I watched in amazement this past Sunday as 40-year-old Brett Favre, despite being pounded by the defense of the New Orleans Saints in the National Football League’s National Conference championship game, pulled himself off the grass time and time again to keep on playing. It was an extraordinary chapter in a career that […]

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Manning as Beowulf, No Joy in Mudville

A quick update for today’s post: some football fans are elated this morning, some are dejected.  “There is no joy in Mudville,” the immortal line from “Casey at the Bat,” may come naturally to citizens of New York and Minnesota – an instance of poetry providing solace by naming our pain.  Here’s the passage: Oh, […]

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Schadenfreude and the NFL

Brady tackled by Raven Ray Lewis        As I did in my last post on the National Football League playoffs, I am admitting to secret sentiments I’m not proud of.  It’s not enough that the player and the team I am rooting for, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, are winning. I have been reveling over […]

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Donne as an Aid to Teenage Angst

Well, the semester is underway.  Yesterday I began teaching one of my favorite classes, the early British Literature survey (Literature in History I).  Along with Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Wife of Bath, Doctor Faustus, Twelfth Night, King Lear, and Paradise Lost, I will be teaching the poetry of John Donne.  I […]

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Don’t Underestimate Students

I begin my two literature classes today and, as always, am filled with trepidation.  Will I be the teacher my students need me to be?  Margaret Edson’s play W;t reminds me that, if I stay true to the literature, all will be well. W;t, functions in part as a criticism of those college literature professors […]

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The Limitations of Cerebral Teaching

The new semester begins today.  Margaret Edson’s play W;t is a useful reminder of where I should put my priorities as I begin teaching. When my career started out, I had a number of things in common with Vivian Bearing, the English professor and Donne scholar in W;t. I too reveled in the complexity of texts, […]

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Life before Health Benefits: A Jungle

The Chicago Stockyards  In honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am going to write about a cause that would have been very close to King’s heart and that America’s first black president has embraced: universal health care.  Like many I believe that, if we don’t pass universal health care this year, we probably will […]

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The Tolling Bell Says You’re Not Alone

I talked yesterday about the poet being like one blundering around in the dark, making utterances that some, in their suffering, find consoling.  The poet doesn’t know which poems will reach which readers.  To make another analogy, he or she is like Queequeg, carefully constructing a coffin that then, after he is dead and in […]

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Responding to Unspeakable Horror

No work of literature can begin to address the trauma that Haitians are currently experiencing in the wake of their devastating earthquake. But then, literature can never do justice to human tragedy. In the face of such inexpressible suffering, the poet gropes around in the dark, occasionally making utterances that some, in their agony, find […]

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On Mark McGwire and Fallen Idols

Robert Redford in The Natural      I take a momentary break from Margaret Edson’s W;t to address Mark McGwire’s confession yesterday to having used steroids.  The man whose homerun race with Sammy Sosa “saved baseball” and who then refused to “speak about the past” in a Congressional hearing is finally opening up.  Or at least opening […]

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Doctors, Bad Bedside Manners, and Poetry

Margaret Edson        In Margaret Edson’s W;t there is a doctor, Jason, who has taken her 17th century poetry class as a challenge.  As he puts it, You can’t get into medical school unless you’re well-rounded.  And I made a bet with myself that I could get an A in the three hardest courses on campus. […]

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Runaway Bunny Sing Thee to Thy Rest

 In her dying moments, the Donne scholar in Margaret Edson’s W;t rejects Donne in favor of Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny.  What does this say about the usefulness of both Donne and Brown when we are pushed to the edge? Runaway Bunny is about “a little bunny who wanted to run away.”  But each […]

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Wit Won’t Cushion Us against Death

Will John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” help one handle the fact that one has cancer? It is significant that the cancer victim and Donne scholar in Margaret Edson’s W;t is rejecting her poet by the end of the play. I’m actually not sure whether this particular poem would help any cancer patient. There’s a […]

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Arguing over Life, Death, and a Semicolon

John Donne          Cancer has gone from being a word to being a reality for me as two close friends have been struck.  Alan Paskow, whose progress I’ve been reporting on, had an operation before Christmas that removed three tumors from his right lung (one the size of a grapefruit).  And Beth Reynolds had a tumor […]

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The Journey towards Renewal

Today is the Christian Feast of the Epiphany, the day celebrating the three wise men from the east visiting the infant Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Symbolically, this captures the world’s old wisdom systems acknowledging the new dispensation of love and renewal represented by God entering the world and taking human form, […]

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Romanticism, Classicism, and Football

Peyton Manning  Note: I owe the underlying idea for this post to a reader contribution to Stampede Blue, an Indianapolis Colts fan website.  I have combed through Stampede Blue’s archives and haven’t been able to locate the original post.  If anyone has seen it, I ask that they let me know and I’ll give proper […]

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Beware Gazing at the Palantir in 2010

John Noble as Denethor    A palantir, as readers of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings know, is a crystal ball into which one may gaze and see events occurring around the world.   Although a seeming marvel, it can warp those who gaze into it.  The palantir holds lessons for us on how we to […]

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Peace on Earth and Good Will to All of You

“Ring out the old, ring in the new,” Tennyson writes in In Memoriam (see last Friday’s post).  Bells mark different stages in Tennyson’s grieving process, and bells also defined my Sewanee childhood: All Saints’ Chapel has a fabulous carillon, which would play every Sunday afternoon and on special occasions.  So to ring in 2010, I turned […]

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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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