Author Archives: Robin Bates

Pratchett’s Strong Case for Diversity

Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy Discworld books culminated in the introduction of the railway in his final novel. Pratchett is an effective advocate for a post-modern, multicultural world.

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The Fires and the Black River of Loss

We recently held a memorial service for my dear friend and colleague Kate Chandler. I read from some of Kate’s eloquent nature writings and concluded with a Mary Oliver poem.

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T. S. Eliot, Hope for the Suicidal

In a guest post, novelist Lauren B. Davis draws on Eliot’s “Waste Land” and “Four Quartets” to deal with the suicides of her two brothers and find a way forward.

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Maybe Ryan Sees Trump as John Galt

If Paul Ryan refuses to stand up to Donald Trump, it may be because he worships him as a John Galt figure.

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GOP Plays the Sap for Trump

The ties to Russia involving Donald Trump and his associates are like the many reasons that Sam Spade has for finding Brigid O’Shaughnessy guilty in “The Maltese Falcon”: “Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won’t argue about that. But look at the number of them.”

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Only after Pain Comes Life

For Mother’s Day, here’s a Madeleine L’Engle poem about Jesus’s mother experiencing the crucifixion and then the resurrection. In it we see both the joys and the heartbreak that come with an unconditional mother’s love.

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Commencement à la Wordsworth

Tomorrow our students graduate and they will sing a school song that draws heavily on Wordsworth. The song also has an unexpected twist not intended by the author that always gets a laugh.

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Trump’s Latest Queen of Hearts Beheading

Donald Trump is starting to resemble the Queen of Hearts with all the figures that he has fired, most recently FBI director James Comey. We must stand up to the Queen as Alice does.

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Ivanka Doesn’t Understand “Beloved”

When Ivanka Trump quotes Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” in her recent book, she does everything I tell my students not to: she reduces the work to herself.

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Using Doublethink To Sell Trumpcare

House Republicans appear to be using Doublethink to sell their healthcare plan. If it works, there will be no stopping them.

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From Wycherley to Crazy, Stupid, Love

In my “Restoration and 18th Century Couples Comedy” class, my students paired old rom-coms with contemporary films, including “Ten Things I Hate about You,” “How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days, “Friends with Benefits,” and others.

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The Third Who Walks Always Beside You

Rowan Williams has a powerful poem about the Road to Emmaus in which he tries to capture the tangible-yet-intangible quality of Jesus in our lives. He may be dialoguing with T. S. Eliot’s own use of the episode in “The Waste Land.”

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Most Impactful Books for Every Country

For fun, someone has created a map in which the most impactful works of literature are shown for almost every country in the world. Many of the selections are debatable but the map is good for starting conversations.

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Disability: Assemble Me Piece by Piece

Allison Barrett, a St. Mary’s College of Maryland senior, shares her senior project presentation, which includes poetry and creative non-fiction to capture the experience of a disabled or non-neurotypical woman.

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Swift’s Popularity with Today’s Students

Students crowded into the gym to listen to the publisher of “The Onion.” It is therefore not surprising that they are also responding enthusiastically to Jonathan Swift. I share some of their thoughts on the satirist in today’s post.

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Jane Eyre, Still Groundbreaking

In her senior project, one of my students looked at four film adaptations of “Jane Eyre” and concluded that Bronte’s novel is more radical than all but one of them.

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Berry Chooses Hope over Despair

Wendell Berry “A Vision” could serve as the guiding star for the environmental movement. He sees a world with clean rivers, thick forests, and clean sky as “no paradisal dream,” even as he acknowledges the difficult challenges ahead.

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‘Tis Holy To Love What Death Has Touched

My eldest son died 17 years today, the first Sunday after Easter. Judah Halevi, the great 12th century Jewish poet, captures the paradox of loving what is mortal.

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Lit, An Antidote to Authoritarianism

Literature’s universalism functions as an antidote to the exclusionary politics of figures like Donald Trump and Marine LePen.

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House of Spirits, Authoritarians on the Rise

Strong men (and occasionally women) the world over appear to be having a moment, leading to interest in authoritarianism. Isabel Allende’s description of brutal landowner Esteban Trueba in “House of Mirth” reveals some disturbing similarities to Donald Trump.

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Handmaid’s Tale, More Relevant Than Ever

With Hulu set to release “Handmaid’s Tale” tomorrow, I gather together all my past posts on Atwood’s dystopian classic. The novel isn’t only important for liberals but has lessons for rightwing women as well.

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To Save Planet, Scientists Must Protest

Saturday’s March for Science is a sign that scientists are realizing they don’t have the luxury of remaining aloof from politics. Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior” explores the issue.

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Kosinski Foresaw Our Television President

Jerzy Kosinski’s 1970 novella “Being There” describes a man whose obsession with television helps him thrive and even ascend to the White House. Sound familiar?

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Little Flower, If I Could Understand

In celebration of Earth Day and as scientists protest anti-science measures in Washington, Tennyson’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall” is a good poem to revisit. Tennyson holds the tiny flower as a scientist might but then honors its immense complexity.

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Sports Injuries, Declining Magical Powers

My tennis performance, once decent, has declined since I suffered a foot injury and underwent cataract surgery. I therefore find myself identifying with Ged In LeGuin’s “Wizard of Earthsea” and Taran in “Black Cauldron” when they suddenly find themselves stripped of magical powers.

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Calling Out Trump’s War Enablers

Too many beltway insiders are singing the praises of Donald Trump’s foreign policy bellicosity, with Brian Williams unironically quoting Leonard Cohen’s “I am guided by the beauty of your weapons.” He should quote Dylan’s “Masters of War” instead.

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Milton’s Jesus vs. Trump’s Bombs

Unfortunately centrists and liberals have been endorsing Trump’s bellicosity abroad. Milton’s Jesus in “Paradise Regained” would not approve.

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Masters of Spite: Satan and Trump

Many wonder whether spite drives many of Donald Trump’s policy decisions. If so, he has good company in Milton’s Satan, who is defined by spite.

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A Trans Activist and a Poetic Judge

When forced to rule against transgender student Gavin Grimm because of a Trump administration directive, the sympathetic judge quoted a Naomi Shihab Nye poem. I examine the poem here and show why it is applicable to Gavin’s case.

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Absent from This World, Alive in Another

As is traditional with this blog, we share a Mary Oliver poem about a magical encounter with a deer–which recalls Mary Magdalene’s magical encounter with Jesus in the garden.

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A Poem in Favor of Taxation

Edward Guest’s poem in favor of taxes. Think of paying them as your patriotic duty.

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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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