Monthly Archives: April 2010

Dancing to a Bright Star

Film Friday As this is Friday, I begin with a discussion of a film.  But as it is also the tenth anniversary of the drowning death of my 21-year-old son Justin, I plan to digress.  I trust you will allow me to embark on a bit of a ramble. The film I have chosen is […]

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The Choice: To Die or to Go on Caring

Yesterday we buried a long-time friend, 98-year-old Maurine Holbert Hogaboom, a New York actress who had retired to southern Maryland.  Tomorrow we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of my oldest son Justin.  April, a month of new beginnings, has too often proved cruel as well. Nature often works ironically.  Justin, feeling joyous on a […]

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Stepping over Every Dark Thing

John James Audubon, White Egret If life seems hard at the moment, I have a poem that may lift you up: Mary Oliver’s “Egrets.” Oliver is, if not the most popular poet writing in America today, at least among the top five. Her poems often function as prayers to a divine spirit running through nature. In […]

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The Damned Human Race

Last Wednesday was the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death.  To mark the occasion, Ben Click, our enterprising department chair, set up a panel to discuss what Twain had to say about  “race, religion, politics, and the ‘damned human race.’”   On the panel were Peter Sagal, star of National Public Radio’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell […]

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Gambling at Goldman? Shocked, Shocked!

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Captain Renault famously exclaims in Casablanca, only then to be secretly presented with a bribe from the winnings.  Why did this scene come to mind when I heard about the shenanigans of Goldman Sachs this past week? It did so, I suspect, because […]

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I Sing of a Maiden

Spiritual Sunday Here’s a lovely spring poem from the Middle Ages about the conception of Jesus. Jesus enters Mary as “stille” (quietly) as April dew falls upon the grass. Mary is described as “makelees,” an adjective which (according to the Norton Anthology of British Literature) is a three-way pun: spotless, matchless, and mateless. I love how […]

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Jackie Robinson, Poetry in Motion

Jackie Robinson steals home  Sports Saturday In the memorial service held at St. Mary’s College for Lucille Clifton two weeks ago, I learned that she had three special heroes: Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, and Jackie Robinson. Robinson, of course, was the African American player who broke the baseball color line in 1947, which he […]

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Rethinking Dirty Harry Vigilantism

Film Friday I’m fascinated by how films function as social barometers and am wondering what kinds of films will characterize the Age of Obama.  Maybe Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino (2008) is some kind of harbinger. (Spoiler alert: I will be revealing the end of the film.) One career trajectory I never could have imagined (not […]

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Uncomfortable Books that Help Us Grow

Streep and Kline in Sophie’s Choice  A recent survey of the Tea Party movement has revealed that the movement is overwhelmingly white, educated, middle class and conservative, and people are now studying what it all means.  I love this post Ta-Tehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic. As occurs in the world of the […]

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A War that Won’t Go Away

When I was in middle school, I found myself in the midst of the South’s school desegregation battles. (I was born in 1951 and my family moved to Sewanee, Tennessee in 1954). Therefore, I experienced a disturbing sense of déjà vu when I saw Virginia governor Bob McDonnell two weeks ago declaring a special month […]

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Republicans Need a Shakespearean Fool

William Dyce, “King Lear and the Fool in the Storm” (1851)         There’s been a lot of talk about bubbles in recent years.  Tiger Woods’ bubble, which cut him off from his fellow human beings, may have led to some of his self-destructive behavior.  The Vatican has been living within a bubble for a while, unable […]

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Satirizing Doctors, the Best Medicine

Doctors debate while patient dies in Hogarth’s “Harlot’s Progress,” plate V I’ve talked several times about my friend Alan, who has been battling cancer for a while now.  At present he is still alive, still working out at the gym, and still in the dark about what kind of cancer he has.   He longs for […]

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Becoming a Window through Thy Grace

Saint Chapelle in Paris Spiritual Sunday George Herbert is the author of this lovely 17th-century poem about stained glass windows.  As so often with this humble Anglican rector, he is filled with self doubts, seeing himself as “brittle crazy glass,”  and wonders how anyone can be worthy enough to preach God’s eternal word.  But he […]

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Hockey, Canada’s Great Romance

Sidney Crosby        Sports Saturday Jason Blake, a faculty member at the University of Ljubljana English Department, has just written a book on Canadian Hockey Literature (University of Toronto Press, 2010). The book explores five national themes addressed by hockey literature: nationhood, the hockey dream, violence, national identity, and family. I met Jason (who is Canadian) […]

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Hollywood’s Secret: We Can Have it All

Film Friday In my Film Genre class I’ve just been teaching Meet Me in St. Louis, the 1944 musical where Judy Garland, prior to her family leaving their beloved home to move to New York, sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The film sent me back to a book that has been instrumental in […]

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Remembering the West Virginia Miners

Ma, Tom, and Pa Joad in John Ford’s Grapes of Wrath      I don’t know a lot about the details of the Massey coal mining accident that killed 29 miners in West Virginia last week, but, from what I’ve been able to make out, it was a non-union mine owned by a heavily fined company that […]

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Neuro-Lit Riding to the Rescue?

I wrote last Thursday about neuro-lit, which an article in the New York Times has trumpeted as English’s “best new thing.”  Certain practitioners are analyzing the way readers become absorbed in stories—fictional identification—by scanning their brains as they read.  Practitioners of this new approach are contending that fictional identification has played a key role in the […]

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Poems for Abuse Victims

Lucille Clifton Having attended a memorial ceremony for the recently departed poet Lucille Clifton this past Saturday (see yesterday’s post), today I commemorate her by putting some of her poems to good use. Catholic priest molestation has been in the news recently (less the molestation, which tragically occurs in all walks of life, than the […]

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Poetic Lifelines for Those Left Behind

Lucille, daughters, and granddaughter            On Saturday night St. Mary’s College held a memorial service for Lucille Clifton, the noted American poet who was also our teacher, colleague and friend for almost twenty years.  For me, the most moving part of the ceremony was hearing Lucille’s remaining three daughters reading their favorite poems.  Or rather, they chose […]

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Butterfly Wings, Easter Transformation

Spiritual Sunday In the Episcopal church we are still in the season of Easter, which is coinciding this year with a particularly beautiful spring.  I’ve therefore chosen another Easter poem for “Spiritual Sunday.” This is an emblem poem by my favorite religious poet, George Herbert.  It is entitled “Easter Wings”: Lord, Who createdst man in […]

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Will Tiger Woods Weep Bitter Tears?

Sports Saturday “When Roy looked into the boy’s eyes he wanted to say it wasn’t [true] but couldn’t, and he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears.” (The Natural) In a fine post for the New York Times that I wish I had written, Richard Wright turns to Bernard Malamud’s The […]

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Hurt Locker and Confused Young Men

Jeremy Renner  Film Friday I taught Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker in my film genre course earlier this week. The film both impressed and depressed me. I have been teaching action adventure films and how our culture uses this genre to sort through male identity issues. Drawing on a very useful book by Susan Jeffords, Hard […]

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Neuro-Lit: English’s “Next Big Thing”?

A number of my friends have sent me the following New York Times article about the “next big thing in English”: neuro-lit.   Apparently fictionally identifying with story characters and plots is being studied from a brain point of view.  Researchers are looking at how many levels of abstraction the mind can hold (Virginia Woolf is credited […]

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Purity Tests Kill the Patient

This is following up on an idea I inferred yesterday, that our delight in white cherry tree blossoms indicates a deep longing for innocence.  I suggested that we have more of a problem than do the Japanese (or at least certain Japanese connoisseurs) over the fact that this innocence will fade.  Wanting to grab on to innocence […]

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On Cherry Trees and Time Passing

The ornamental cherry trees on St. Mary’s College campus are in full bloom at the moment.  Few moments of the spring are more beautiful.  I remember the shock a number of years ago when a beaver moved into the area and took them all down.  The animal was deported, new trees were planted, and now […]

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Chaucer’s Answer to Catholic Corruption

Like many, I have been appalled at the non-stop stories of abuse coming out of the Catholic Church and depressed by the Church’s response.  The latest egregious example of the latter is the pope’s personal preacher comparing newspaper accusations of the pope to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. Calling Geoffrey Chaucer, to […]

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God Send Easter–and Hats

Spiritual Sunday/ Easter With this post I am beginning a new series, to appear each Sunday, on literature and spirituality.  There is much great literature that speaks directly to religious and spiritual matters, and this gives me an extra opportunity to share some fine poems.  At present I am anticipating that these posts will involve […]

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The Meaning of Cub Fan Suffering

Sports Saturday In one of the tidiest sports weekends of the year, one sports comes to an end while another begins.  March Madness holds its semi-final and final games while baseball kicks off its season. To celebrate opening day, I promise reader Carl Rosin a write-up on a baseball novel. It seems like the great baseball novels […]

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Glorify Easter, Not the Crucifixion

Film Friday When Mel Gibson’s The Passion was released in theaters in 2004, Bjorn Krondorfer, my good friend and colleague in the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Religious Studies Department, wrote the following powerful critique of the film.  Bjorn’s article is as relevant today as it was in 2004.  In his view, the film elevates […]

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The Restorative Power of Daffodils

Daffodils have been breaking out all over.  St. Mary’s City has a little ravine that we refer to as “Daffodil Gulch,” and the flowers this year have been spectacular.  Daffodil Gulch borders St. Mary’s River, and if one visits it on a sunny day and then looks beyond to the sparkling waters, one cannot help […]

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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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