Author Archives: Robin Bates

Brecht’s Working Class Revenge Fantasy

Many working class and lower middle class Americans have felt abandoned by the GOP and Democratic establishments. Bertolt Brecht’s “Pirate Jenny” articulates a revenge fantasy that captures some of their anger.

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Cruz’s Contortion of Cristianity

Bill Moyers has called Ted Cruz a “fundamentalist charlatan,” and he cites an 18th century satiric poem to help him make his case. Cruz, he says, is contorting a beautiful religion to garner votes.

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Ring Wraith Trump Wins in New Hampshire

Donald Trump, winner of the New Hampshire primary, has been promoting torture. I’ve been teaching “Lord of the Rings” recently and he reminds me of the temptation of the ring, which hollows one out.

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Touching the Happy Isles One Last Time

Peyton Manning limped rather than sprinted across the finish line but he still was victorious in probably what was his last game. The words of Walter Savage Landor’s dying philosopher come to mind.

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The Most Commonly Taught Lit

The Open Syllabus project has come up with a list of the most commonly taught books in college–at least according to syllabi that are available on-line. “The Canterbury Tales” leads the list. Shakespeare, of course, is the most represented author.

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Lyra’s Epic Journey To Grow Up

Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is a frontal assault on sin-obsessed patriarchal churches. While I don’t find this depiction to be compelling, I am drawn into his coming of age story.

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Peyton: Old Age Hath Yet His Honor

Two narratives clash on Super Bowl Sunday: the return of the king vs. the aging king that must be overthrown. Is Peyton Manning Odysseus and the Panthers the suitors? Or is he the dragon who must yield to the next generation?

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An ANTidote for Apocalyptic Talk

Depressed by all the doom and gloom being voiced in the presidential primaries? Here’s a Scott Bates poem about an apocalytptic antichrist ant to lighten you mood.

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Could Fascism Happen Here?

Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” about the election of a fascist in a 1930s presidential election, seems suddenly relevant again. The novel turns 80-years-old this year.

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The Very Deep Is Rotting in Flint, Michigan

The water crisis experienced by the residents of Flint, Michigan is described in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Now they just need a governor who, like the mariner, is genuinely penitent.

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Trump: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Many thought that the GOP debate this past week was won by Donald Trump. Think of him as the man who wasn’t there but who refused to go away.

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God’s Patience Is His Promise

This simple Lucille Clifton poem expresses a quiet confidence in God’s love.

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How Smollett Would React to Flint Water

Matthew Bramble in Tobias Smollett’s “Humphry Clinker” unloads about the supposedly medicinal water of Bath. Just think how he would react to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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Literature and Climate Change

Thoughts about the genre label “cli-fi” and an annotated list of past posts about literature and climate change.

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GOP Christians Summon Witch/Trump

A conservative Christian blogger argues that Christians supporting Trump are like Nikabrik in “Prince Caspian” wanting to conjure up the White Witch to save Narnia.

Posted in Lewis (C. S.) | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A Talk with a Cli-Fi Activist

Dan Bloom, inventor of the term cli-fi for climate fiction, tirelessly advocates for such fiction, regarding it as indispensable in the struggle to save the human race. I interview him in today’s blog.

Posted in Kingsolver (Barbara) | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Blizzard Jonas: How the Wind Doth Ramm!

In “Ancient Music” Ezra Pound voices what all those who were hit hard by the weekend’s Jonas Blizzard were thinking–and often saying.

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Monarchs & Ezekiel’s Burning Coals of Fire

Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” shows us Baptists farmers, not normally friends of environmentalists, turning to religious language to save the environment.

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Sarah Palin as Daisy Buchanan

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, speaking for moderate Republicans who are being driven from the party, sees himself as Jay Gatsby jilted by Daisy. Sarah Palin was once his Daisy and Donald Trump could be compared to Tom Buchanan.

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LeGuin Attacks Federal Land Seizure

Sci-fi writer Ursula K. LeGuin recently wrote to the Oregonian complaining that it fails to understand that “federal” land means all our land. It’s a vision she also communicates in her utopian classic “The Dispossessed.”

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Has America Become a Lion for Peace?

From having destabilized the world with the invasion of Iraq, America is becoming a force for peace with the Iranian peace accord. The turnaround reminds me of the evangelical lion in one of Scott Bates’s animal fables.

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Beware Teachers That Satirize Students

Tom Layman’s “The Students” is a humorous poem but, in the end, mean-spirited. It also lets the teacher off the hook.

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Black in a White World

Clint Smith’s poem captures what it can feel like to be the only black student in an otherwise all-white class.

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Mary’s Dangerous Request at Cana

In his poem about the wedding at Cana, Rilke sees Mary as a proud mother who inadvertently pushes her son towards his destiny by asking him to perform a miracle. On reflection, she realizes what she did.

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Ted Cruz–Dark and Satanic?

When NYT columnist David Brooks called Ted Cruz “dark and satanic,” he was referencing a Blake poem. But although the allusion is apt, it struck most people as weird or offensive because they didn’t recognize the source.

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Becoming the Land’s People Is Hard

Barack Obama in his 2016 State of the Union Address talked about the difficult task of creating an America that upholds our highest values. Robert Frost talks of the challenge in his poem “The Gift Outright.”

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British and American Fantasy Contrasted

An “Atlantic” article argues that British fantasy is richer than American fantasy. I agree that they are different and that there are interesting reasons for those differences–but that American fantasy is vibrant as well.

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The Singular “They” Is Here to Stay

The singular “they” is on the verge of becoming accepted in formal writing. It’s a development I approve of (if language never changed, I should have said “of which I approve”), and to celebrate I share a Philip Levine poem that makes imaginative use of the word “they.”

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Thoughts on Classroom Attendance

Tom Wayman’s “Did I Miss Anything” is a sarcastic put down of students who have missed classes. It allows teachers to vent but there are better answers to the question available.

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What in Me Is Dark Illumine

An epiphany is the moment when something divine enters the human realm. During the Epiphany season, Christians celebrate such moments. In the famous opening of “Paradise Lost,” Milton notes that the Holy Spirit is his muse and connects his own inspiration with a number of famous visitations of the Holy Spirit throughout Biblical history.

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Introducing a New Genre: Cli-Fi

Weather disappeared largely from literature when it was seen unrealted to the actions of humans. With climate change now upon us, however, a new literary genre has arisen.

Posted in Milton (John), Oliver (Mary) | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments


  • 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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