Author Archives: Robin Bates

Train Surfing: Thrilling but Chilling

Thrill seekers have begun using cityscapes as an arena. As Ruth Rendell warns in “King Solomon’s Carpet,” sometimes they don’t survive.

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How To Reflect upon the Death Penalty

Our motivations for executing prisoners too often have little to do with justice. Cormac McCarthy understands this well in “All the Pretty Horses.”

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GOP Budget Proposes Gruel Cuts

Mean-spirited legislators who seek to cut food stamps and other programs for the poor bear more than a little resemblance to the workhouse authorities in “Oliver Twist.”

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When American Fantasies Are Dangerous

The denial of reality that has taken over certain segments of the GOP is well described by Neil Gaiman in “American Gods.” America has a long tradition of such fantasizing.

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From the Dark, Cold Grime a Flower Comes

Mary Ann Bernard shows spring coming only with difficulty–but being all the more meaningful because of that.

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Milne’s Old Sailor & ADD

A. A. Milne’s “Old Sailor” is an accurate description of adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

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Violating Political Norms Exacts a Price

Those who break political norms must keep in mind the lessons of Bolingbroke’s rebellion in Richard II.

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Don’t Shoot the Truth Tellers

Should we tell the truth if it undermines a social movement? Borges sets up the question, Jonathan Capehart, looking at the Ferguson shooting, provides an answer.

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Yeats & Ireland’s World of Faery

Yeats’ “Stolen Child” longs for the lost world of faery but also finds something precious in the here and now world of Ireland.

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What Lemming Migrations Mean

Scott Bates’ articulates existential despair in a lyrical poem about lemmings.

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O’Connor’s Christianity and Racism

“Artificial Nigger” can be read two ways–either as a story of sin and redemption or as a story of Whites finding unity by scapegoating Blacks. A definitive interpretation may depend on readers’ reactions.

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Would I Were in Grantchester

The BBC series “Grantchester” owes its inspiration to a Rupert Brooke poem.

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Lear’s Lesson: Dividing Leads to War

The politics in “King Lear” are currently being played out in attempts to sabotage negotiations with Iran.

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The Return of Debtor Imprisonment?!

The fleecing by authorities of the Ferguson Black community, including imprisonment for debt, puts one in mind of Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit.”

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An Inspiring Speech Draws Upon Poetry

Obama drew powerfully from James Baldwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Langston Hughes, and Walt Whitman in his Selma speech.

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Literature Fills Your Life with Color

Having literature always playing in the back of your mind causes the world to pulsate with meaning.

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A Good Faith Is Hard To Find

Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” is a profound meditation on doubt and faith.

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Selma’s Bloody History

Gregory Orr’s poem recalls his arrests in Alabama in 1965.

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Gaga Feminism & 12th Night

“Gaga feminism” is a playful challenge to conventional social definitions. Shakespeare can be seen as writing “Twelfth Night” in the spirit of gaga feminism.

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Atwood and a Woman on Death Row

Kelly Gissender, the Georgia woman scheduled to be executed, brings to mind Margaret Atwood’s meditations in “Alias Grace” on what goes on in a woman’s mind.

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Is It Time to Bring Out Twain’s War Prayer?

The GOP and Netanyahu are trying to sabotage Obama’s negotiations with Iran. Could Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” knock some sense into them?

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King Looks to Children for Hope

Despite the horrors he describes, Stephen King’s vision is ultimately a hopeful one. The key, as he sees it, is plugging into childhood hopes and imagination.

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Bigger Thomas, Clarence’s Shadow

“Native Son,” 75 years old, is Justice Clarence Thomas’ favorite novel. I theorize that Bigger Thomas is the justice’s destructive shadow.

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How to Keep Beauty from Vanishing Away

Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo” works as a Lenten meditation on the beauty of God’s grace.

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In Support of School Prayer (with a Twist)

A Florida bill allows prayers to be read at assemblies but can designate a particular religion, offering openings very various sects. Scott Bates provides the school children with some possibilities.

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King’s Vision of Environmental Devastation

Stephen King, drawing on William Carlos Williams’ “Paterson,” warns about the destructiveness brought on by America’s acquisitive side.

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Hoping against Hope in the Face of Death

Following philosopher Adrienne Martin, I meditate on what it means to “hope against hope” or to have “unimaginable hope.” The text I use are “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “Beowulf,” and “Wizard of Earthsea.”

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Unlike Oklahoma, King Wants Real History

The Oklahoma legislature wants to whitewash American history. Stephen King’s horror fiction is all about such whitewashing attempts.

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Motion Picture Industry, It’s You I Love!

Sixty years ago Frank O’Hara captured an ambivalence that we may have experienced during the Oscars last night: he both mocks Hollywood and is enthralled with it.

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Tracking Eliot’s Spiritual Journey for Lent

My Lenten discipline is to better understand T. S. Eliot’s religious poetry.

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Old Lit as a Transformational Experience

The power of a “King Lear” passage is a refutation of Scott Walker’s attempt to redirect higher education to “work force needs.”

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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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