Author Archives: Robin Bates

After Surgery, World Is No Longer a Monet

My brain is still trying to adjust to my new eye following cataract surgery, which has me thinking of various passages about seeing in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” My having an operation, I also opted for a different path than Claude Monet, at least according to this wonderful Lisa Mueller poem.

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Fundamentalists Send Readers to Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” is topping bestseller lists at the moment. The reason is probably because of the GOP’s prospect of success in curbing reproductive freedom.

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With Many Tears I Went in Search of HIm

Spiritual Sunday I know George MacDonald as the author of various fantasy novels but didn’t realize that he also wrote poetry. Here’s a lovely sonnet about looking for God after suffering a crisis of faith. The poet doesn’t find his “friend” when he searches in the wilderness or in cities, in cathedrals or in charnel houses, […]

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Chaucer’s Wife, an Early Gaslighter

Donald Trump’s non-ending falsehoods have sometimes been described as “gaslighting,” after the old Charles Boyer-Ingrid Bergman film. An early literary example of a gaslighter is Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, although her use of the tactic is far more justifiable.

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Trump’s Faustian Emptiness

Donald Trump has a lot in common with Doctor Faustus: both are narcissists who create hells for themselves by being unable to reach out beyond themselves.

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Teaching Euripides in the Age of Title IX

Recently a student reported me for using sexist language in the classroom. (This while teaching a Kingsolver novel and Euripides’s “The Bacchae.”) The language did not reflect my own views, but the complaint made me realize that I need to be more careful with this generation of students.

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How to Make All Your Fantasies Come True

In high school I learned, from Jacques Offenbach’s opera “Tales of Hoffman,” how to make all my sexual fantasies come true. It took several decades of married life to fully embrace his insight.

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Hughes Dreams the Real American Dream

Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again” is a powerful riposte to President Steven Bannon and Co.’s “Make America Great Again.” Poems like this one can play an important role in resistance against the Trump administration.

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Suffering and God’s Apparent Silence

Susaku Endo’s great novel “Silence” wrestles with the seeming silence of God in the face of humanity’s suffering. A missionary priest in 17th century Japan struggles with his doubts as he witnesses the torture of Christians. In the end, it takes his own betrayal of his mission for him to grasp the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice.

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Humiliation, a Lit Department Game

David Lodge describes a game in “Changing Places” that English departments might enjoy: Humiliation. Check out the rules here.

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Poetry & the Sea Liberate the Imprisoned

For Pablo Neruda’s, the “poet’s obligation” is to speak for freedom–which makes poetry vital important in our time.

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Our Version of Plague Maddened Villagers

Donald Trump’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act and on immigrants could well end up hurting many of his supporters. A similar irony is described in Geraldine Brooks’s “Year of Wonders,” where 17th century villagers, maddened by the plague, kill two midwives.

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Poetry as a Check against Tyranny

African American poet Rita Dove talks about the importance of poetry in resisting tyranny, especially its attack on language. In “American Smooth,” she expresses a foundational optimism about America.

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My Cataract Surgery Recalls Oedipus, Lear

Recent cataract surgery had me recalling all those literary passages where sharp objects get poked into people’s eyes. The real drama, however, was renegotiating my professional identity.

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Curling Up with a Good Book

This Scott Bates is a testimony to the solitary joy of reading.

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Ollie the Bobcat, Whirlwind of Light

Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” helps explain why Ollie, the bobcat who escaped from the National Zoo, returned on her own. Her time in the spotlight gives me an excuse to share a pulsating bobcat poem by Mary Oliver.

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Read Poetry To Keep Hope Alive

Literature that just shows us the grim truth of reality without the possibility of hope calls into question the whole enterprise. Much great literature frames reality in such a way that we can see new possibilities for ourselves.

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The GOP’s Faustian Bargain with Trump

New York Times columnist David Brooks says that the GOP is striking a Faustian bargain by collaborating with Donald Trump. Christopher Marlowe shows the price that is paid for dealing with the devil and also tells us how one can get one’s soul back.

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One Equal Temper of Heroic Hearts

Federer and Nadal resumed their legendary rivalry in the Australian Open finals and played a match for the ages. They are both old in tennis terms and by all rights should have been surpassed by the next generation. Therefore Tennyson’s “Ulysses” seems the proper poem to acknowledge them.

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Trump’s Crusoe Wall Goes Up in Airports

This past weekend so a flurry of illegal and unconstitutional executive orders that created chaos in airports and elsewhere as travelers from certain countries found themselves in detention. Defoe captures versions of such dramas in “Robinson Crusoe.”

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The World’s One Hope: Compassion

Bertolt Brecht’s “”The World One Hope” addresses the problem of growing callousness but then points to how we can break through to compassion.

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Interpreting Lit by Computer

A new study purports to “reveal what exactly it is about popular stories that makes us love them most.” Your own explanations about why you love the characters you do are for more revealing. I include David Lodge’s mockery of such computer studies in his novel “Small World.”

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Trump to Torture’s Opponents: Drop Dead

Donald Trump wants to bring back torture, specifically waterboarding. Like the colonel in Carolyn Forché’s poem by that name, he is a showman who seeks to intimidate.

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1984 Explains Why Trump Keeps Lying

“1984” gives us new insight into Donald Trump’s incessant lying. We are not supposed to apply logic to contentions that Trump’s inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s. We are supposed to submit to power. The more outrageous the lie, the more Trump demonstrates his power when people go along.

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Holding to Higher Principles

Poets and other artists help keep alive the flame of higher principles. That’s why authoritarians like Donald Trump last out against them.

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Can Poetry Stop This Man?

Poetry may not have been able to stop Donald Trump, but it has its ways of mounting resistance. Poems by Tennyson, Auden, and Yeats explain how.

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Empty but for Pain: How Faith Is Perverted

During Inauguration activities on Friday, we saw two dramatically different versions of Christianity, with one pastor finding scriptural backing for Donald Trump’s wall and another presenting him with the Sermon on the Mount.

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How Will the Future Judge Us for Trump?

Jane Hirshfield’s poem “What Will They Say” was reprinted by the National Academy of Poets to coincide with the inauguration of Donald Trump. Imagining what future generations will say of us, she urges them to understand us. Which is not to let us off lightly.

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The Good Ol’ Boy That Conned America

Flannery O’Connor “Good Country People” may help us understand why America got taken in by the man getting sworn in as president today: Donald Trump conned people whenever he caught them feeling superior to him.

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Jonathan Swift, Master of Fake News

Fake news, which played a role in the 2016 election, may have become particularly sophisticated, but satirists have been creating fake news since at least the days of Jonathan Swift. Take, for instance, Swift’s “The Last Speech and Dying Words of Ebenezer Elliston,” which supposedly lowered the crime rate but which, for that reason, is problematic.

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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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