Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pretty Is Not What Blazes the Trail

As the ice (or “iron rind”) starts dissolving from the ponds, we may dream of “ferns and flowers and new leaves unfolding.” But the transition from winter to spring is a much grittier affair, characterized less by sweetness and more by lurid smells emerging from chilling mud. The real harbinger of spring may not be the bluebird but the skunk cabbage, celebrated by Mary Oliver in a powerful poem.

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The Classics, Better than Business Guides

The Republic, The Art of War, The Social Contract, The Prince, and the Tao Te Ching gave me a way of understanding the broader implications of the business choices I was making. They helped me look beyond the immediate challenges to find a greater purpose. My individual efforts seemed part of a legacy of thinkers and doers who had come before.

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Misery Loves Poetry

Yesterday a New York Times blog addressed an issue I have been wrestling with as well: whether literature is up to the string of disasters we are encountering. Sam Tanenhaus asserts that “one of the enduring paradoxes of great apocalyptic writing is that it consoles even as it alarms.” To my mind, Tanenhaus’s most interesting point is about why poetry seems to be better at responding to catastrophe than narrative prose.

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Faulkner and a Love for the Liberal Arts

Dr. Joseph Urgo wove William Faulkner into his inauguration speech as the new president of St. Mary’s College. Above all, Urgo said, “St. Mary’s exists in the public trust, offering the love of liberal learning–an impassioned, dedicated, humanistic endeavor—to all segments of society.”

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A Place of Parched and Broken Trees

My friend Alan Paskow is finally dying. The poem that comes to mind is Mary Oliver’s “Universal Hospital, Boston.” All around nature is thriving, a contrast with the clean antiseptic rooms within the hospital. The contrast shows up as well in the patient’s eyes, which “are sometimes green and sometimes gray,/and sometimes full of humor, but often not.”

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March Madness and Then Some

Sports Saturday Even though it happened a week ago, I am still shaking my head at one of the most bizarre endings I have ever witnessed to a sports event. The University of Pittsburgh, ranked one in its region, and Butler University, last year’s tournament darling and eventual runner-up, were in the final seconds of […]

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The Sexual Politics of Dexter

Film Friday Last Friday I wrote about my deep distress over the season 4 finale of Dexter. (Read no further if you want don’t want the suspense ruined for you.) My friend Rachel Kranz, who introduced me to the show, wrote me the following response examining why people, men especially, find the show so captivating. […]

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The Triangle Fire and the Face of Labor

Suddenly everyone is interested in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and not only because tomorrow is the tragedy’s 100th anniversary. As the Wisconsin state legislature rolls back the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers, questions of worker protection are once again in headlines. The best poem I know that mentions the fire is “Shirt,” […]

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Ah, the Stench of Spring

The news has been so grim recently that I offer up a bit of comic verse at midweek to give you a breather. Think of it as a celebration of the stench of spring—which is to say, of the fertilizer that the farmers are spreading on their fields as the season of growth begins. The […]

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Libya: Gargoyle Laughing, Fist Pounding

First Muammar Gaddafi, Guernica-like, bombed his people.  Now the United States and several western countries are bombing Gaddafi. As this Carl Sandburg poem makes clear, the nightmare has no end: Gaddafi jeering and Allied responding go on and on (if not in Libya, then elsewhere) as America enters its third war in ten years. Gargoyle […]

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When Events Defy Human Understanding

As I wrote last year when the earthquake hit Haiti, all human language, even literature, comes up short when faced with disaster and death. Literature is language by humans about humans, and destruction on this scale seems to laugh narrative and image to scorn. Nevertheless, being human, we try to bring even apocalyptic disasters into a […]

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Remembering My Son through Alyosha K

Spiritual Sunday Several times over the past few months I have rhapsodized over Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, feeling a little bit like Keats upon first reading Chapman’s Homer. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into its ken,” the poet writes, perfectly capturing the experience. One reason I like the novel is […]

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March Madness, A Return to Innocence

Sports Saturday March Madness begins this weekend. Actually, to be exact, it begins for the big schools. Division III colleges are in the final week of their tournament. I know because my college was one step away from making the final four. For the first time ever, St. Mary’s College of Maryland sent a team […]

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Serial Killer

Film Friday Today, in a slight departure, I am writing on a television series rather than a film, one that has gripped me for months. My love affair came to a crashing end last week, however, and I have resolved never to watch another episode. Since I tell my students that negative viewing experiences are […]

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Beaten by the Recipe, I Hear Stars

Yesterday I wrote about my colleague Karen Anderson entering into a poetic dialogue with cookbooks, particularly The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (or “the Big Red Cookbook,” as it is frequently called). She particularly hones in on the star recipes and examines the way that we may look to them as an escape from a life […]

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Grace Kelly in the Kitchen

My colleague Karen Anderson, who teaches poetry in many of our creative writing classes, recently gave a fascinating talk to the faculty on her poetic dialogue with cookbooks, especially the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (commonly knows as the “Big Red Cookbook”). I asked for her lecture notes so that I could reconstruct her argument for […]

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Reverencing an Exaggeration Artist

David Lodge’s Small World is the funniest novel I know about international academic conferences. Among the more bizarre scenes is an American Jane Austen scholar, once a New Critic and now a reborn deconstructionist, who against his will is pulled into the bondage and domination games of an Italian feminist poststructuralist. As described by our […]

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Leaders Who Don’t Want to Govern

“Nature, be thou my goddess,” exclaims Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester in King Lear as he prepares to embark on a course of action that, before he is stopped, results in the disinheritance of his legitimate brother, the blinding and banishment of his father, the poisoning of one sister by another, and the execution […]

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Let He Who Is without Sin Judge Others

Spiritual Sunday Jackie Paskow, a former colleague from the Foreign Language Department, recently mentioned to me a Flannery O’Connor story that had made an impact on her. We normally visit the Paskows on Sunday evenings—Alan is my friend who has cancer—but as we are out of town for the week, I thought I’d send her, […]

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Novelists, Poker Players Must Be Relentless

Sports Saturday I’m written out this week so do yourself a favor and hie thee to some of the best writing about poker that I know.  You don’t have to play the game to enjoy the writing of my novelist friend Rachel Kranz, who I’ve mentioned numerous times  Her website is called Adventures in Poker, […]

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Dance with the Enemy, Then Go Wash

Film Friday The Western, Hollywood’s quintessential genre, can tell us a lot about race relations. I was reminded of this on Wednesday when I taught John Ford’s The Searchers in my American Film class. Rewatching the movie got me thinking about the Congressional hearings on “Muslim American Radicalization,” which began yesterday. I will have more […]

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Brother Fire Unleashed in Libya

As I watch Muammar Qaddafi turn his air force against his own people, I am trying to imagine conditions on the ground. I asked my father for literature describing the experience, he having once undergone a bombing himself. It occurred in 1944, a couple of weeks after the D Day invasion of Normandy, when the […]

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The Bard: Sublime Poet, Ace Businessman

My son Darien and I were interviewed by Boomer Alley Radio yesterday—I’ve posted the listening times below in case any of you live out west or want to check out the podcast—and while I wish I’d gotten a bit more specific about how Shakespeare applies to business, it was fun. Everything I said on the […]

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The Bard’s Business Advice

Later today I’m going to be interviewed, along with my son Darien, by Boomer Alley Radio.  As producer Sharon Glassman described it to me, this is “a weekly hour-long show of upbeat, useful information that airs on the CBS news affiliate in LA, across Colorado and nationally via podcast.” Finding a post I had written […]

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The Powerful Urge for Freedom

  I am in awe of the protesters in Tunisia and Bahrain and Egypt and Libya and Iran and Yemen and the Sudan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Their yearning for freedom is so great that, day after day, they put their lives on the line. I pray particularly for those in Libya and […]

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A Sweet and Virtuous Soul Chiefly Lives

Spiritual Sunday Last week I wrote about how my friend Alan, beset with cancer,  has beenexploring the meaning of love as his health fails. Here’s a beautiful George Herbert poem that captures Alan’s love for creation, his sadness that he must leave it, and (perhaps) his sense that his love may transcend death. Even though […]

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Judge Doty in the Role of Deus ex Machina

Sports Saturday Negotiations between the National Football League owners and the Players Association were at an impasse. The owners locking out the players seemed all but inevitable, along with suspension of the 2011 season.  Then the goddess Athena stepped in.  Taking the form of U.S. District Judge David Doty, she ordered the two sides to […]

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Dorothy’s Advice for Lawyers

Film Friday In a 2006 commencement address to the University of Richmond Law School, John Douglass outlined how The Wizard of Oz can serve as a guide for lawyers. His brother Brent, husband of Carter Douglass whose children-in church poem I published two weeks ago, alerted me to it, and since it fits this blog […]

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Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Franklin Roosevelt memorably told a nation in the midst of its greatest economic crisis. As I look at America today, I see a lot of our politics dictated by fear. It is as though the unscrupulous and the irresponsible are stampeding us into extreme positions. Some want […]

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We Shall Not Be Moved

I have to give the American far right an award for chutzpa: somehow they have managed to turn every one of their failures into an attack point. A schizophrenic student buys a glock and turns it on a Congresswoman, a child, and others in a shopping mall? Use this as an argument that we need […]

Posted in Kranz (Rachel) | Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Finding Love while Dying

From time to time I bring you updates about my friend Alan Paskow, currently failing because of cancer. Julia and I visit the Paskows every Sunday night. Julia administers a Reiki massage to Jackie while Alan and I converse. In our recent visits, Alan is always in bed when I talk to him. Our conversation […]

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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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