Author Archives: Robin Bates

Comic Relief for Desperate Students

If you cramming madly for finals (or remembering a time when you once did), here’s a wonderfully witty Philip Appleman poem about the experience.

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The Magic Spell Cast by Stories

In “1Q84” Murakami describes novels as holding out the promise to solve our problems only we can’t quite make them out.

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Massacring the Environment Dakota Style

With a North Dakota winter bearing down on those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, I see a convergence of images that also show up in Lucille Clifton’s poem “the killing of the trees”: environmental degradation, oppression of Native Americans, and frozen bodies.

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John the Baptist: his mouth be true as time

In Lucille Clifton’s version of John the Baptist, he is a black minister preaching the social gospel.

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Poe: Trapped in the Prison of the Self

Two Chinese students have brought home to me, from their collectivist perspective, how Edgar Allan Poe went against the grain of American individualism. He exposed its dark side, even as Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman were unabashedly celebrated it.

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Figaro: The Play That Spurred a Revolution

In “Marriage of Figaro,” Beaumarchais took the “clever servant” trope and turned into into a vehicle for revolutionary ideals. The play can be seen as having paved the way for the French Revolution.

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Dorothy as Feminist Threat

In 1986, Christian fundamentalists objected to “The Wizard of Oz” being taught in school and won their lawsuit. As ridiculous as the case may sound, there are actually some good reasons for them to feel threatened.

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Trumpist Masculinity Isn’t Kind to Men

In a story which is only too timely, the Washington Post recently reported that “sexist men have psychological problems.” Adrienne Rich was talking about this over 60 years ago in poems like “The Knight.”

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If Swift Had Known Donald Trump…

Jonathan Swift would have had a field day with Donald Trump. I suspect I’ll say this often in the upcoming years.

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The Twisted Fingers Letting Go

Catherine Alder has a beautiful poem in which she calls upon us to unclench our fists. I reflect also upon two other works that feature clenched fists, Blake’s “Grey Monk” and George MacDonald’s “Lilith.”

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Back from Surgery and Doing Fine

My 91-year-old mother returned home yesterday from successful back surgery. I dedicate this 1914 Amy Lowell poem about convalescence to her.

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Thanksgiving in the Age of Trump

Thanksgiving this year may encounter the strains of the recent election. For a depiction of how bad it can get, check out the Christmas dinner scene in “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.” It will show you what to avoid.

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Death Seems Comely at the Fall of the Leaf

The lure of many autumn poems lies in how they focus on a vanishing beauty. Dante Gabriel Rossetti finds death to be “a comely thing/In Autumn at the fall of the leaf.”

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Civil War Battle, Image of Climate Denial

Ambrose Bierce’s disturbing short story “Chickamauga” can be applied to climate change denialsm.

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Can Trump Cast Off His Falstaffs?

Can Donald Trump, like Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” plays, shift from irresponsible merrymaker to great leader? Can he say, “I know thee not old man” to his former companions? Dream on.

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All Must Love the Human Form

In “The Divine Image,” Blake gives us a poem for our time, a call to pray for mercy, pity, peace, and love and to recognize the human form in diversity. In “The Human Abstract” he adds that prayer is not enough. It must be accompanied by human justice.

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How Trump’s White Appeal Degrades

In his novel “Snow,” Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk captures what it is like for Turks to see themselves through the eyes of Germans. In Trump’s election, my students of color saw themselves through the eyes of white America and didn’t like what they saw.

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Toni Morrison: White Panic Led to Trump

As Toni Morrison sees it, William Faulkner’s observations about white panic go a long way toward explaining Trump’s victory.

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HRC & McKinley’s Strong Woman Fantasy

Robin McKinley’s “Chalice” is a novel about a woman with strong powers who scares men away. It’s a story that may explain the 2016 election.

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What Would Beowulf Do?

Beowulf offers us guidance for fighting back against Trumpism. Here’s a step-by-step account of the three monsters that will be facing liberals and what they must do.

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Even in Bad Times, Life Goes On

Donald Trump is a disaster but, as Thomas Hardy reminds us, life goes on even during disasters. As bad as Trump is, he’s not comparable to World War I, the subject of Hardy’s poem.

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Poetry: Sure Solacer of Human Cares

For those trapped in gloom, Emily Bronte reminds us that the Imagination is there to provide us with solace.

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Entering a Brave New Trumpist World

In which I reflect upon my students’ shock upon Donald Trump’s victory. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” and Flannery O’Connor’s “All That Rises Must Converge” figure into the discussion.

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Good Readers Make Good Presidents

Continuing with the favorite literature of our presidents, here is Eisenhower through Obama.

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The Grand Inquisitor Was Right

To understand Donald Trump’s stunning victory, turn to Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. The lure of an authoritarian leader and the challenges of a pluralistic and multicultural society can be found in Ivan Karamazov’s parable.

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Lit Produces Good Voters

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that reading literature, and reading it critically, prepares one to be a good citizen who can vote responsibly.

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Looking Back: Trump & Clinton in Lit

I look back at all the literary comparisons I’ve made for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over the past year and bring you the list.

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Emily Dickinson & Going to Heaven

In “Going to Heaven,” Emily Dickinson grapples with the idea of heaven but, in her skepticism, concludes that too much focus on the afterlife will draw her attention away from “curious earth.”

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Shakespeare Understood Trumpism

According to Adam Gopnik, Shakespeare would have understood the rise of Donald Trump better than we do today. Whereas we see him as a historical oddity, Shakespeare would have seen him as the kind of evil that has always resided within humankind.

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Trump, Murakami, and Our Dark Selves

Donald Trump’s ability to tap into a deep American rage is the source of his power. In “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” Haruki Murakami, seeking to understand the resurgence of rightwing Japanese nationalism, has a Trump-like character who accesses a slimy substance within modern Japan.

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Favorite Lit of Our Presidents

What was the favorite literature of the American presidents? I look at works that drew them (up through Franklin Roosevelt–the rest will follow tomorrow) and speculate on why.

Posted in Addison (Joseph), Bulwer-Lytton (Edward), Byron (Lord Gordon), Cooper (James Fenimore), Defoe (Daniel), Dickens (Charles), Goldsmith (Oliver), Irving (Washington), Pope (Alexander), Robinson (Edward Arlington), Scott (Sir Walter), Shakespeare (William), Shelley (Percy), Swift (Jonathan) | Leave a comment

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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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