Author Archives: Robin Bates

Trump’s Unseen Playmate Jim

Trump apparently has an imaginary friend Jim who no longer likes Paris. Robert Louis Stevenson has a great poem about an imaginary friend.

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Federer, Unlike Ulysses, a Family Man Hero

Time and again with Roger Federer, thinking he is nearing his end, I have cited Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” He keeps proving me wrong. One reason may be because he has a different relationship with his family than Tennyson’s protagonist has.

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Sustaining Narratives Can Become Traps

In Atwood’s “Life before Man,” a little girl turns to “The Wizard of Oz” to make sense of a chaotic life. Later in life, she learns that she must abandon this narrative that sustained her.

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Is Chick Lit Bad for You?

Some see mass produced fantasies for women, including “chick lit,” as damaging. Some who defend them put down critics who wish such readers would choose better literature. I examine the arguments in today’s post.

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Trapped in the Marriage Plot?

Are even great novels like “Emma,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Jane Eyre,” and “Middlemarch” complicit with patriarchy? Some feminists argue that this is in fact the case.

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Once There Was Light

I turned to Jane Kenyon’s “Having It Out with Melancholy” when a friend’s illness suddenly took a turn for the worse.

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Lit Frees Us from Our Mental Ghettos

In a fine “New Yorker” article, Shakespearean Stephen Greenblatt argues that Shakespeare was incapable to showing anything less than the full humanity of his characters, even the villains. He thereby liberates us from our “mental ghettos.”

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Brecht Explains Castile Shooting

To understand why cops continue to shoot innocent people of color and why juries acquit them, Brecht has the definitive explanation in his play “The Exception and the Rule.”

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Lucille Clifton’s Cancer Poems

In her 1980s cancer poems, Lucille Clifton captures a range of feelings, ranging from confusion to anger to acceptance.

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Dear Trump: America Contains Multitudes

To celebrate July 4, do not listen to Donald Trump, who preaches paranoia and exclusion. Read Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” His America contains multitudes.

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The Meadow-Scented Month July

In this Boris Pasternak poem, July is compared to a unkempt and untidy summer lodger, who enters our house and interrupts our carefully regulated work routine.

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Born with a Knife in the Heart

Israeli poet Haim Gouri reflects upon the story of Abraham and Isaac and concludes that the descendants of people persecuted “are born with a knife in their hearts.”

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Green Knight’s Lessons for Doctors

An essay I received on “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” from a pre-med student has me thinking of the poem’s useful lessons for doctors. There are several.

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Women Who Refuse To Be Broken

There are certain poets who appear indomitable and, in their confident affirmations of life, inspire the rest of us. Lucille Clifton was one of these poets.

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Trapped in an Emergency Room

When a friend found herself suddenly trapped in a large metropolitan emergency room, Nabokov’s short story “Cloud, Castle, Lake” came to mind. It’s about a man who wants to leave travel tour and is prevented.

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Lincoln Transformed Depression thru Lit

Melancholy threatened to paralyze Abraham Lincoln in his early years. Literature helped him give voice to his depression and taught him how to turn it into an asset.

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Candide & the GOP’s Tax Obsession

The GOP’s obsession with tax cuts reminds me of the Baron’s obsession with his lineage in Voltaire’s “Candide.” No matter how much reality changes, he always insists on this one thing.

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Be Wide as the Air To Learn a Secret

In “Bismallah!” (“In the Name of God!”), Rumi speaks of the lightness of spirit that Ramadan makes possible.

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Lit Comforts an ALS Sufferer

This past March an ALS sufferer spoke eloquently, shortly before her death, about how she turned to Sophocles, Kafka, and Shakespeare for comfort.

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Great Pro-War Literature Doesn’t Exist

In which I argue that great pro-war literature doesn’t exist, including “The iliad” and “War and Peace.” (Both works are magnificent; I just don’t see them as pro-war.)

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Watching McConnell Destroy Healthcare

Wednesday It’s so strange watching Mitch McConnell crafting a healthcare bill under a cloud of secrecy at the same time that everybody pretty much knows about the consequent disasters, beginning with the 20+ million who will lose healthcare. I feel like I’m in the position of the God and Jesus in Paradise Lost as they […]

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A Dreamy Day and Tranquilly I Lie

Here’s a relaxing poem by “hoosier poet” James Whitcomb Riley to welcome in the summer.

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Lit Can Both Enslave and Liberate

In his 1961 revolutionary classic, Frantz Fanon saw literature as a powerful force with the potential to both enslave and liberate. Emerging nationalist movements needed literary expression to frame a sense of what was possible.

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On a Father’s Unspoken Love

Robert Hayden’s “Those Sunday Mornings” lends itself to a religious interpretation about a caring father who selflessly takes care of his child, expecting nothing in return.

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WaPo’s Petri Plays Shakespearean Fool

Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri has been having a lot of fun with Trump supporters’ attack on “Julius Caesar.” Here are some of her funniest barbs.

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Only Wimps Complain about Shakespeare

Preeminent Shakespearean Stephen Greenblatt calls out people for whining about the Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of “Julius Caesar.” After all, Queen Elizabeth I once had a Shakespeare play used against her in an attempted overthrow and just shrugged it off.

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Sly Marc Antony Resembles McConnell

The Shakespeare-in-the-Park production of “Julius Caesar” has the Right up in arms about the image of Donald Trump being assassinated. The timeliest lesson of the play, however, is the way that Marc Antony slyly slides in to take power. Think of him as Mitch McConnell quietly preparing to repeal Obamacare and deprive millions of healthcare while the nation focuses on Senate hearings.

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Trump’s Cabinet as Goneril and Regan

Everyday, it seems, Trump proves to us that he’s King Lear. The latest example is when he subjected his Cabinet to a love test.

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A Birthday Poem by the Numbers

My wedding anniversary and birthday this year all work together as a numerical quirk, giving me a rationale to share one of Jonathan Swift’s “Stella birthday poems” in which the poet also plays around with numbers.

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Genesis: Story Truth, Not Happening Truth

The creation story in the Book of Genesis is magnificent poetry that resists the attempts of religious and scientific fundamentalists alike to reduce it to a scientific account.

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Will No One Rid Me of This Russia Probe?

When former FBI Director James Comey, in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, quoted Henry II–“Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest”–he brought to mind both T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” and Shakespeare’s “Richard II.” He took the right lessons from history by not murdering the Russia investigation.

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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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