Author Archives: Robin Bates

Teachers, Don’t Nip Their Buds

In “Songs of Experience,” William Blake worries that authority figures will nip the promise of budding schoolboys. “The Schoolboy” serves as a timely reminder for all teachers.

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Lochte, White Privilege, & the Giving Tree

Alexandra Petri of “The Washington Post” makes brilliant use of “The Giving Tree” as she examines the recent shenanigans of Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte, As Petri sees it, Lochte is protected by white privilege and would be facing far different consequences were he a person of color

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Our Stoned Girls and Boys

As America undergoes a major opioid epidemic, it is worth looking back at two Lucille Clifton poems about how drugs were blighting the lives of young black men and women in the early 1990s.

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Kranz & Muriel Spark on Insulting the Aged

Today I share a poker post from my 61-year-old novelist and poker playing friend Rachel Kranz, about the indignities of being called “young lady” while at the poker table. Muriel Spark similarly objects to the indignities heaped upon those who are aging in her novel “Memento Mori.”

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Finding God within Our Hearts

Dinah Morris delivers a touching sermon on the township green in “Adam Bede.”

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Selling Your Child on Idealism

Should parents, knowing what the world is like, encourage their children’s idealism. Maggie Smith takes on this question in an entertaining poem.

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Jon Stewart Resembled Jonathan Swift

Jon Stewart stepped down from “The Daily Show” just over a year ago. At the time, he was our Jonathan Swift and, like Swift, he was not afraid to satirize satire itself when it became too puffed up.

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Is Your City Dying? Bring in Poets

James Fallows of “The Atlantic,” visiting decaying cities that have turned themselves around, discovered that the arts, including literature, have played a key role in the transformations.

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Trump as Melville’s Confidence Man

Why, in the words of Nicholas Kristof, do we think of Hillary as “a slippery, compulsive liar” and Donald Trump as “a gutsy truth-teller.” Herman Melville gives us a compelling explanation in “The Confidence Man.”

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On Walls: A Letter to the Incoming Class

Talk about walls and keep people out of America is beginning to seep down to high schools and colleges. It is therefore important that students understand how walls operate. Daniel Defoe and Lucille Clifton has some useful insights into how walls both make us safe and entrap us.

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Wander Slowly through the Forest

In this nature poem Mary Oliver tells us to open ourselves to “God or the gods,” to listen for “the words that will never leave God’s mouth,” to linger in the wind and the rain and to wander slowly through forests,

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U.S. Police, Tear Down These Walls

the Justice Department has just reprimanded the Baltimore for the metaphoric walls it has set up between its police department and its African American citizens. Gloria Naylor in “The Women of Brewster Place” writes about a literal wall, as well as dreams of tearing it down.

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Novels with Waterfalls and Secret Caves

When I was growing up, the adventure books that I read influenced how I regarded and interacted with nature.

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Trollope & Trump’s Congressional Enablers

By continuing their support for Donald Trump, GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are choosing their party and their careers over country. In doing so, they resemble Anthony Trollope’s Sir Timothy Beeswax, Conservative leader in the Palliser novels..

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On Trump’s Cheap Nuclear Bomb Talk

With Donald Trump talking so casually about the use of nuclear bombs, it is important to remind ourselves how horrific they are. This power Carolyn Forché poem opens our eyes.

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Literature as a Public Event

In my Theories of the Reader senior seminar, I will have my students study a literary work that became a public event. In today’s post I list a number of possibilities.

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Powerful Stories Change Lives

The Bible is powerful in large part because of its gripping stories. Sir Philip in his “Defense of Poesy” uses the story of King David and the Prophet Nathan to argue for “poetical invention.” There is a truth that goes deeper than factual truth.

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Palestinian Poet Compared to Hitler

Israel’s rightwing defense minister recently compared Palestine’s national poet to Hitler. A close look at a poem by Mahoud Darwish helps us understand why.

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And on Her Stomach Was a Scar!

When my wife shows me her scars yesterday from a successful gall bladder operation, I was wafted by to one of my favorite childhood stories: Ludwig Bemelmans’s “Madeline.”

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Is Trump Running a Red Queen Race?

Turning to Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” political scientist Jonathan Bernstein says that Donald Trump is in a “Red Queen Race,” forced to be ever more outrageous just to keep the spotlight on himself.

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Butler’s 1998 Sci-Fi Novel Predicted Trump

Black sci-fi author Octavia Butler predicted Donald Trump through her depiction of a rightwing demagogue in her 1998 novel “Parable of the Talents.” Her figure even promises to “make America great again.”

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Chelsea’s Books and Female Ambition

Chelsea Clinton revealed that she talked to her parents about Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” and watched the mini-series of “Pride and Prejudice” with her mother. Both feature strong heroines but also show these heroines to be confined to traditionally female roles.

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Implore His Aid, in His Decisions Rest

The famous passage from Ecclesiastes–“All is vanity”–inspired a great poem by Samuel Johnson. Johnson’s final conclusion is that we can find happiness only in prayer.

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Wishing Hillary Godspeed

What are we to make of these charismatic men like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama supporting Hillary? I offer up Thomas Hardy and James Baldwin references to advance different interpretations.

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We Shall Not Look Upon His Like Again

Obama’s speech passing the baton to Hillary Clinton last night brings to mind a passage from “Hamlet.”

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Like Citizen Kane, Trump Lacks Substance

Why is “Citizen Kane” Donald Trump’s favorite film? Perhaps because he likes the way that the film glamorizes a narcissist like himself. We need to be careful about falling into this fascination, however. Such people make neither good journalists nor good presidents.

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Donald Trump as Citizen Kane

Donald Trump’s favorite film is “Citizen Kane.” Is he drawing on Kane’s campaign for governor in his demonization of Hillary Clinton?

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Stephen Gosson: Unhinged by Lit

Stephen Gosson, a 17th century Puritan and failed playwright, unloads virtually every poet revered in the 17th century. Though we dismiss his words today, they anticipated contemporary attacks on literature/

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Emily Dickinson’s “Smart Misery” of Doubt

Emily Dickinson struggled with religious doubt all of her life. Because she desperately wanted to belief, some of her poems show her faith being tested.

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The Mental Benefits of Forest Walking

Recent brain research notes that walking amongst trees is a powerful antidote to depression. Wordsworth knew this long ago.

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The Road Goes Ever On and On

Tolkien’s “The Road Goes Ever On and On” is a good poem for travelers returning home.

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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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