Tuesday, December 06, 2022

"Lent trees" in Elizabeth Bishop's "Electrical Storm"

Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Electrical Storm" (from "Questions of Travel", 1965) ends with trees: "The Lent trees had shed all their petals." The poem has been rarely discussed by scholars, so I figured out "Lent trees" by myself. First, I stumbled on a German translation for "Lent tree": Echter Korallenbaum. This led me to the genus Erythrina and the Purple Coral Tree (the petals' color is also mentioned). But then I invented the German word Fastenbaum and found the Brazilian tree Quaresmeira (Pleroma granulosum) – and Quaresma is Lent in Portuguese. The tree is called that because it flowers during Lent, and Bishop wrote the poem while living in Brazil in the 1950s. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 December 2022)

Sunday, December 04, 2022

A dramatic teaching moment that a student remembered but I forgot

My second story about my first academic-writing class starts when I saw the class's best student a few years later. Teaching essay writing for high-school students, she'd tell them about "what you did to my essay." She was surprised I didn't remember how, in a meeting about one of her essays, I'd crossed out everything but its brilliant final sentence and told her to start with it and revise accordingly. – Today, although I might point out an essay's best moment, I'd never cross out the rest, and I'm sure I only did it with hers because she was an excellent student. But it's a dramatic story about what revision can entail. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 December 2022)

Friday, December 02, 2022

Three Swiss football players who could soon have the most matches for the national team

The Swiss football player with the most appearances for the national team is Heinz Hermann, who played 118 matches for the team between 1975 and 1991, followed by Alain Geiger, who played 112 matches between 1980 and 1996. Three current players could still pass them: Ricard Rodriguez played his 103rd match for Switzerland this evening, and captain Granit Xhaka played his 110th. Both of them first played for Switzerland in 2011 – and won the U-17 World Cup with Switzerland in 2009. Their teammate Xherdan Shaqiri was too old to be part of that team; he debuted with the national team in 2010 and reached a nice number of matches tonight: 111. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 December 2022)

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Pushing my glasses up while teaching

In fall 1990, in my third year of graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, I taught a first-year writing course for the first time. Two stories have stuck with me from that class; here's one. A couple days before the first session, a friend said that when I pushed up my glasses if they slid down my nose a bit, I should use my index finger and not my middle finger. I thought that would ruin my class, because I would worry about my glasses and fingers too much, but in fact, I ended up worrying enough about them that I did not worry about the contents of the class! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 December 2022)

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

"Like Robinson Crusoe's money" in Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit" (1857)

During my reading of Charles Dickens's novels in chronological order (which I started sometime in mid-2020), I have frequently noted his references to Robinson Crusoe. In "Little Dorrit" (1857), Arthur Clennam spends two decades in China with his father after the end of his engagement with Flora Casby, and the "wealth" of his memory of her is evoked with Crusoe: “That wealth had been, in his desert home, like Robinson Crusoe's money; exchangeable with no one, lying idle in the dark to rust, until he poured it out for her.” Unlike Crusoe's money for Clennam, Crusoe is a source of figurative exchange for Dickens, to be poured out again and again. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 November 2022)

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

"Had nothing to say and said it": John Cage and the Circumlocution Office in Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit"

John Cage wrote his "Lecture on Nothing" in 1949 and published it in "Silences: Lectures and Writings" in 1961. I have long known one passage from it: "I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry / as I need it." I was surprised to find an anachronistic "reference" to Cage in Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit" (1857) when the "Circumlocution Office", with its principle of "How not to do it", is first described in the chapter "Containing the Whole Science of Government", in one of the Office's reactions to being challenged in Parliament: "[...] the Circumlocution Office had nothing to say and said it." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 November 2022)

Monday, November 28, 2022

On rereading Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit" and remembering my father as well as Alec Guinness as Mr. Dorrit

Before I read Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit" in 1999, I'd seen Christine Edzard's 1987 film with Alec Guinness as Mr. Dorrit, Derek Jacobi as Arthur Clennam, and Sarah Pickering as Little Dorrit. Although I've watched the film again since then, I'd forgotten many details before my recent rereading of the novel, so I was overwhelmed anew the other day when an ailing Mr. Dorrit (presumably having a stroke) speaks of his time in the Marshalsea prison while at a social event in his honor. My father, who loved Guinness and his Mr. Dorrit, succumbed to his third stroke in September 2016, twenty-plus years after he first introduced me to the film. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 November 2022)
Alec Guinness, Derek Jacobi, Sarah Pickering