Monthly Archives: April 2016

I Am the Dance and the Dance Goes On

At my eldest son’s funeral 16 years ago we sang “The Lord of the Dance.” Justin was a joyous dancer and I imagine him dancing somewhere, in some plane, whenever I hear the hymn.

Posted in Carter (Sydney) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Fencing People Out & Spiritual Desolation

In her novel “Ceremony,” Leslie Marmon Silko has a vision of spiritual desolation caused when we build fences to keep other people out.

Posted in Silko (Leslie Marmon) | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fantasy To Cope with Adult Pressures

James Barrie’s “Peter and Wendy” was forged out of the intense resentment of a boy who was forced to grow up too early.

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Euripides Explains Anti-LGBTQ Votes

The North Carolina state legislature recently passed anti-LBGTQ legislation which, among other things, forbids transgender individuals from using the bathrooms of their chosen gender identity. Euripides provides some insight into hostility against crossdressers in “The Bacchae.”

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A Kind of Light Spread Out from Her

John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” contributed to the naming of my latest granddaughter.

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Harriet Tubman Didn’t Take No Stuff

In honor of Harriet Tubman as the first woman and first African American to appear on U.S. currency, here are poems honoring her by Eloise Greenfield and Lucille Clifton.

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Death & Miracles & Stars without Number

In Norman Finkelstein’s account of the Passover, death and miracles are bound up together. It is an uneasy combination, calling upon us to look at our own complicity in the world’s evils.

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In One of the Stars, Prince Will Be Living

A passage from Saint-Exupéry’s “Little Prince” provides an appropriate eulogy for Prince, the rock musician who died yesterday at 59.

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Finding Beauty in Ravaged Landscapes

In “Gift of Gravity,” Wendell Berry finds beauty even in ravaged landscapes. But is there a limit to how much of a devastated landscape he could learn to love?

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Diana Wynne Jones’s Feminist Fantasy

Diana Wynne Jones’s “Fire and Hemlock” draws on the Tam Lin story to give women a model for heroism that counters the role assigned to them in traditional fairy tales.

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To Save the World, Know Your Habitat

In his book “Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality,” Darcia Navaez talks about the importance of knowing our habitat if we are to develop an eco-morality. Poets like Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver help show us the way.

Posted in Berry (Wendell), Oliver (Mary) | 1 Comment

Let Our Teachers Teach

Monday When I wrote last week about a Virginia legislator attacking teachers for assigning Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I didn’t realize that there was a mother in an adjoining county also going after the book. And unlike the Virginia legislator she gives reasons. Here’s from The Post’s article about Laura Murphy, a Fairfax County mother whose son […]

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Passover: Blood on the Door Posts

Norman Finkelstein’s powerful poem reflects on the mixed history commemorated by the Passover seder. The event that marked the beginning of the Israelites journey home was also a night of death.

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The Tax Man Cometh

“People’s poet” Edgar Guest has a useful poem that, in light of current day heated rhetoric, seems particularly dated. He regards paying taxes as a social good.

Posted in Guest (Edgar) | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Virginia Legislator Attacks Beloved

A Virginia representative has attacked the teaching of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” calling the novel “moral sewage.” Given the man’s views on spousal rape and abortion, i think I know what scene in the book set him off.

Posted in Morrison (Toni) | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Stories Have Always Opened Up the Future

An anthropologist argues that human beings took over the world because they had the ability to compose fictions. Literature continues to point the way forward for us as a species.

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My New Granddaughter, Glorious Eden

I am a grandfather again. My latest granddaughter, Eden Rhys Wilson-Bates, brings to mind “Paradise Lost” and Lucille Clifton’s Garden of Eden poems.

Posted in Clifton (Lucille), Milton (John) | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Robinson Ran Against Walls, Never Broke

A Ken Burns documentary on Jackie Robinson gives me an excuse to run this short, powerful Lucille Clifton poem honoring the player who broke baseball’s color line.

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Beauty Breaks Like a Flash from Heaven

William Cowper invokes St. Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus to capture his sense of God in nature.

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Immigrants Touched by Grace

Philip Levine gives us a poem which serves as a reproof to those in the GOP who bash immigrants. We see much needed moments of humanity, important to remember in this election season.

Posted in Levine (Philip) | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Lit for Handling a College’s Race Problems

After a series of arson fires and racist incidents, I turned to works in each of my courses to address the situation. In Intro to Lit, Lucille Clifton’s poetry; in Early British Literature survey, Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko”; in British Fantasy, “Perdido Street Station.”

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Our Children Will Reproach Us

If we fail to take adequate measures to stave off catastrophic climate change, our children and grandchildren will see sea levels rise by three meters by the century’s end. Lucille Clifton has a poem that describes how they would regard us.

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Mixed Feelings after Winning a Drawing

Following an unpleasant sales pitch, we opened up our envelope and discovered that we had won… Well, read the post to find out. I felt like Reba in Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.”

Posted in Morrison (Toni) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Shelley Predicted Microsoft’s AI Problems

Monday My son Tobias Wilson-Bates, currently a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech, recently published a short essay about robotics and literature in a school newsletter. Sign me up immediately for the Proud Fathers Club. The relationship between machines and literature has long fascinated Tobias, which makes Georgia Tech a good place for him […]

Posted in Shelley (Mary) | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Debate about Sex, Pullman vs. Milton

This is the 20th anniversary of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, which gives me an excuse for once again tilting with the fantasy author and figuring out my own thoughts on our vexed relationship with sexuality and our bodies. Once again I conclude that Milton goes far deeper into these issues than Pullman does.

Posted in Everyman poet, Milton (John), Nemerov (Howard), Pullman (Philip) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


  • 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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