Monthly Archives: August 2009

Our Most Famous (and Most Misread) Poem

  Today I walk into my first classes after a year of sabbatical.  After having spent all day Friday meeting with new entering students and hearing about their  momentous decision (as they see it) to attend St. Mary’s, it makes sense for me to write on decision making. In what is arguably America’s most famous poem is about […]

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One Kiss, My Bonnie Sweetheart

When my wife and I leave the house in the morning, I will sometimes call out to her, “One kiss, my bonnie sweetheart” and we will embrace before going our separate ways.   I suspect you recognize the line, which is from one of the English language’s most beloved poems, Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman.” I write […]

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You Don’t Have to Read between the Lines

Robert Scholes tells us to teach biography and historical context and the poems will become clear.

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Through Novels We Practice Being Human

    My friend Rachel Kranz and I have been talking and e-mailing about the value of novel reading, always a useful topic to revisit.  Rachel is as thoughtful as anyone I know on the subject—she is a novelist as well as a novel reader so she has a double perspective.  Leaps of Faith (Farrar […]

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Why Didn’t Poetry Save Neil from Suicide?

Yesterday I wrote about how Dead Poets Society, despite its support for poetry, still doesn’t give poetry enough credit and that Keating is the coin side of J. Evans Pritchard.  Whereas Pritchard wants to graph literary excellence on a Cartesian plane, Keating (at least in the scenes we see, which are all we have to […]

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Dead Poets Changing Lives

  I seem to be returning to my childhood in recent posts, what with all my references to Sewanee, Tennessee.  In my last entry I showed literary scholar Robert Scholes blaming Allen Tate, a poet and critic with close ties to Sewanee, for the abysmal state of American literature instruction.  To balance Tate out, my launching […]

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Saving Poetry from English Teachers

Poetry used to play a much larger role in our culture than it does today.  That, at any rate, is the opinion of literary scholar Robert Scholes in his wonderfully provocative The Crafty Reader (Yale, 2001).  Scholes’ book is provocative in part because of where he puts the blame:  “I would like to suggest that […]

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Alan’s Cancer vs. an Exquisite Corpse

Colleagues of my friend Alan Paskow held another one of our salons Monday night.  Alan is a former professor of philosophy at St. Mary’s College, now retired, who currently has cancer in his lungs.  We have been meeting once a month or so to show our support and to generally reaffirm how important community is.  Monday […]

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Poetry vs. the Decline of Civilization

  I was listening to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion this past weekend and marveling yet again at his ability to pull me into his stories about the Lake Woebegone citizenry.  His account of a school field trip may have been a summer repeat—I’m not sure because I came into the program late.  In any […]

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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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