Monday, May 31, 2021

Repetition and imperatives in villlanelles

The villanelle's repetitions make it effective for going around in circles. Dylan Thomas's 1947 "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" repeats imperatives to the poet's father; Elizabeth Bishop's 1976 "One Art" uses them to talk herself into not feeling overwhelmed by loss. Responding to 9/11, Jay Parini's 2002 "After the Terror" saves its imperatives for the beginning of the final quatrain: "Believe in victory and all that jazz. / Believe we're better off, that less is more." The after-effects of 9/11 come up in Tracy K. Smith's 2011 "Solstice", but its single imperative question is not one of the repeated lines: "Remember how they taught you once to pray?" (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 May 2021)


Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop receiving the Neustadt Prize in 1976


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Pidgins and creoles as products of collective linguistic creativity

In their Language Log post addressing the concept of the "native speaker" of a language, Devin Grammon and Anna Babel mention that creole languages, like many "marginalized" languages, are often "not recognized as legitimate varieties of language" by speakers of more socially validated languages. Yet the creation of pidgin and creole languages at points of contact between languages is amazing: with elements of the languages they know, people with no common language create a pidgin, which turns into a creole as their descendants learn to speak it. Instead of being decried as illegitimate forms compared to "standard" languages, pidgins and creoles deserve widespread recognition as incredible realizations of collective linguistic creativity. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 May 2021)

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Returning in thought with Adam Zagajewski to a concert by Hildegard Lernt Fliegen

One reason for praise in Adam Zagajewski's poem "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" (translated by Clare Cavanagh) is the experience of listening to live music: "Return in thought to the concert where music flared." Of the hundreds of concerts I've attended in my life, those who know me might expect me to think of one by The Grateful Dead (and if I did, it would have been 22 July 1984 in Ventura, California), but the one that comes to mind took place on 18 July 2018 at the Stimmen Festival in Lörrach: Hildegard Lernt Fliegen (also still the last band I have seen live, in Freiburg on 11 March 2020). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 May 2021)
Andreas Schärer of Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, photo by Barbara Ruda

Friday, May 28, 2021

Adrienne Rich's "Rusted Legacy", Hermann Hesse, and Ilya Kaminsky

Adrienne Rich's 1997 poem "Rusted Legacy" begins with "a city where nothing's / forgiven [...] but almost everything's forgiven", "a city partitioned" where a speaker remembers what she can: "I finger the glass beads I strung and wore / under the pines while the arrests were going on". This string of beads is not for prayer or meditation but to remember the time when she made it and kept herself out of the city's conflicts. While those "glass beads" echo the Hermann Hesse's 1943 novel "The Glass Bead Game", the image of living one's life during a conflict re-appears in Ilya Kaminsky's 2013 poem "But We Lived Happily During the War". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 May 2021)



Thursday, May 27, 2021

Ideoplasty in Porphyry and Goethe

In my listening to the podcast "The history of philosophy without any gaps", I have just finished the set of episodes on the third-century philosopher Plotinus and then another on his student Porphyry. Porphyry had a theory of ideoplasty: he thought that whatever the mother or father is thinking about at the moment of conception will influence their child's appearance or character. Though I have never heard the novel connected to ancient embryology, I only know this idea from Goethe's "Die Wahlverwandtschaften": Eduard and Charlotte conceive a child while they are both thinking about Ottilie and Otto, respectively, so the child ends up looking like the latter and not the parents. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 May 2021)


Porphire Sophiste, in a French 16th-century engraving

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The end of Toni Morrison's "Tar Baby"

Toni Morrison's 1981 novel "Tar Baby" ends with Son Green being rowed between islands in the Caribbean by Thérèse, a nearly blind woman. She leaves him on a rocky shore on the opposite side of the island he wanted to reach, and after struggling to solid ground, he runs "lickety-split" into the woods, "looking neither left nor right." While "lickety-split" alludes to how Brer Rabbit runs away at the end of the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, the crossing of the river and the escape into the woods recalls what runaway slaves in the United States did when they crossed the Ohio River on their way north to freedom. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 May 2021)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Material and dream in Adrienne Rich and Seamus Heaney

Adrienne Rich's poem "Dreamwood", which is one of the works I recently memorized, describes how the surface of an old wooden "typing stand" can look like a "dream-map" in which "the material and the dream can join / and that is the poem". Today, I memorized Seamus Heaney's poem "The Rain Stick" (which was not hard, since I once wrote an obsessively detailed close reading of the poem) and noticed the same figure of the joining of matter and mind when you "upend the rain stick" to hear its singular sounds: "Who cares if all the music that transpires / Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?"  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 May 2021)


Seamus Heaney with a rain stick

Monday, May 24, 2021

Memories of Bob Dylan live: For his 80th birthday

I have known the songs of Bob Dylan since I was very young, but I only began listening to him seriously after getting into the Jerry Garcia Band, especially their roaring version of "Tangled Up In Blue" – and the first time I saw Dylan live was in Oakland on the 1987 Dylan and the Dead. I only saw him again in Konstanz in 1996, but since then I've seen him several times in Zurich as well as in Freiburg and Basel. Many listeners complain about how he rearranges his songs (I'm convinced he does so to keep people from singing along), but I've always enjoyed the variations and his brilliant unpredictability. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 May 2021)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

"Prosto plakat. Osvobodi sedya": The figure of delay in C. Dale Young's "Portrait in Nightshade and Delayed Translation"

In C. Dale Young's "Portrait in Nightshade and Delayed Translation", the speaker goes to the Hermitage with his family, wanders off by himself, and sees a painting he once studied in college, Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son". After his physical response to the painting causes him to fall to his knees in tears, a guard tells him: "Prosto plakat. Osvobodi sedya". Only years later does a friend offer him the title's "delayed translation": "Just cry. / Free yourself." That delay is doubled by the time between his study and his experience of the painting, as well as by the delay in the prodigal son's story between departure and return. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 May 2021)


4096px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the ...
Rembrandt, "Return of the Prodigal Son", c. 1669


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Instead of praying, Senator Manchin, get rid of the filibuster

As a bill to establish a commission to investigate the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 goes from the House of Representatives to the Senate, Senate Republicans have threatened to filibuster it, so 10 Republican Senators would have to vote for the bill for it to pass. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, "one of the filibuster’s strongest supporters in the Democratic Party", told Politico: "I’m still praying we’ve still got 10 good solid patriots" among the Republican Senators. It's almost as if he's sending out the proverbial "thoughts and prayers" to his Republican colleagues; instead, he should drop his resistance to getting rid of the filibuster. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 May 2021)



Senator Joe Manchin in an anti-NRA ad, 2013

Friday, May 21, 2021

Adrienne Rich and Bertolt Brecht in Rich's "In Those Years"

Adrienne Rich's 1995 poetry collection "Dark Fields of the Republic" begins with "What Kind of Times Are These", which, as an endnote mentions, alludes to Bertolt Brecht and Osip Mandelstam to explore the relationship between poetry and politics. There is no note for the next poem, "In Those Years", but it also echoes Brecht's "To Those Born Later" ("An die Nachgeborenen") as it considers how the present willl be remembered: "In those years, people will say, we lost track / of the meaning of we, of you." While Brecht appeals to future readers to "think of us / with forebearance", Rich anticipates later criticisms without asking for any forgiveness or understanding. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 May 2021)


How to pronounce Adrienne Rich - PronounceItRight
Adrienne Rich

Bertolt Brecht - Wikiwand
Bertolt Brecht

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Computer security with "two-step authentification" – which takes four steps

The University of Basel computer center now requires "two-step authentification" for email accounts. This is an important security procedure, as over 100 unibas email accounts have been hacked via phishing in the last twelve months. I've registered for it now and used it for the first time – but as my wife Andrea pointed out after signing up for it a few weeks ago, it actually takes four steps: signing in with my password on the website, unlocking my phone with its passcode, unlocking the Authenticator app with my passcode, and then confirming my login on Authenticator with the passcode again! I'm all for security, but "two-step authentification" is a misnomer here! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 May 2021)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Emma Woodhouse and "the wonderful velocity of thought"

In Jane Austen's "Emma", when Harriet Smith tells Emma Woodhouse of her affection for Mr. Knightley, Emma's response is quick: "A mind like hers [...] made rapid progress. [...] It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!" Emma's quick thinking reappears when Mr. Knightley proposes to her: "While he spoke, Emma's mind was most busy, and, with all the wonderful velocity of thought, had been able [...] to catch and comprehend the exact truth of the whole [...]." While she often jumps to erroneous conclusions, in these scenes she is right, first about her own emotions, then about Mr. Knightley's. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 May 2021)

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

My courses for Fall Semester 2021

Yesterday, the University of Basel published the course schedule for Fall Semester 2021, which runs from Monday, 20 September, until Thursday, 23 December. I'll be teaching three sections of Academic Writing I, a course on poetry for future middle-school teachers, and a creative-writing course on poetry and songwriting. My MA Seminar will be on "Novels of 1962", which began as a reason to teach James Baldwin's "Another Country" again, and now also features Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle", William Melvin Kelley's "A Different Drummer", and Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook." I'm glad to see that, at present, all the courses are scheduled to be held in person. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 May 2021)


Another Country : James Baldwin : 9780141186375


Monday, May 17, 2021

With Shultz and Gromyko in Geneva in 1985

On Monday and Tuesday, 6-7 January 1985, US Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko met in Geneva for arms talks, so I went there, mistakenly seeking an anti-nuclear demonstration. Instead, I went with Frank, a young American I'd just met, to the bar of Shultz's hotel, where we asked a man sitting alone if we could join him. The arms talks only provided a few minutes of conversation, but for several hours this Dutch journalist told us about himself – most memorably about his lifelong post-war aversion to Germany. He'd never visited the country – something quite unusual for the Foreign Editor of a Rotterdam newspaper! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 May 2021)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

From Manhattan to Kassel to Basel: My life with Jonathan Borofsky

After I saw Jonathan Borofsky's show in Manhattan in 1985, where I had the sense I'd been in the exhibition even before I went inside the museum, I didn't think about him much until I saw his "Man Walking to the Sky" at documenta in Kassel in 1992. That was my first visit to my future wife's hometown, so since then I've walked past that gigantic work many times, which people in Kassel have dubbed "Der Himmelsstürmer". Then, when I moved to Basel in 1995, I discovered Borofsky's equally gigantic "Hammering Man" at Aeschenplatz. So it's as if my life keeps taking me back to that vivid and memorable Whitney show. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 May 2021)


Man Walking to the Sky
"Man Walking to the Sky", Kassel
"Hammering Man", Basel

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Jonathan Borofsky at the Whitney in 1985

In Manhattan in February 1985, I saw a Jonathan Borofsky exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Before going in, I noticed a shop with what I took for its telephone number on its awning. Inside, my numerological bent appreciated Borofsky's practice of constantly counting and then numbering works based on how high he'd counted when he finished them. After admiring a gigantic bubble-wrap figure, I read the label on the wall and noticed another beside it that read "Awning at ..." – and from a window I saw the awning outside with that number on it. I loved discovering that I had been in the exhibition even before I had entered the building. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 May 2021)

Friday, May 14, 2021

Crossing the border to shop in Germany

For years, we've done our primary grocery shopping at the Hieber supermarket in the German town of Grenzach, five kilometers from our house in Basel. We have family stories, such as how my daughter Sara and I went there for breakfast and shopping every Monday morning when she was three. But we only worked out how much we saved shopping there during last spring's lockdowns in Germany and Switzerland, when a comparison of credit-card bills showed we spent a little over 1000 CHF more a month when we only shopped in Switzerland. But today, for the first time since December, Sara and I again had the pleasure of going to Hieber. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 May 2021)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Walking with my laptop case and channeling Forest Whitaker and Adam Driver

Since lockdown began last year, I have carried my laptop case up and down the stairs in my house several times a day. And often, I remember how Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog in Jim Jarmusch's 1999 movie walks everywhere with his briefcase. Like me, he is carrying the tools of his trade – but as he is a hit man, they are guns, not a computer. Today, coming downstairs with my computer, I also remembered how Adam Driver as the bus driver Paterson in Jarmusch's 2016 movie always carries his lunch box – with lunch in it, of course, but also a book of poetry and the notebook of his own poems. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 May 2021)


Ghost Dog - Jim Jarmusch
Forest Whitaker with his briefcase in Ghost Dog


New York Film Festival 2016: Main Lineup Announced | Collider
Adam Driver with his lunch box in Paterson

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

"Mingus puts me to sleep": Jadine Childs and jazz and gospel music in Toni Morrison's "Tar Baby"

In Toni Morrison's "Tar Baby", Jadine Childs, a twenty-something black woman, tells her benefactor Valerian Street, a seventy-year-old white man, that Valerian's son Michael made her "want to apologize for what I was doing, what I felt. For liking 'Ave Maria' more than gospel music, I suppose." Earlier, the same musical figure comes up when Jade ponders the intentions of Ryk, a white man in Paris who'd proposed to her:  "[...] what will happen when he finds out [...] that Mingus puts me to sleep [...]"? For Jadine, the young white men around her might be disappointed because she doesn't enjoy the music that a black woman is supposed to enjoy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 May 2021)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

At the vaccination center in Basel

Outside the vaccination center is a line waiting for backpacks and purses to be checked, but it goes quickly. Inside is a first waiting area with lines of chairs, and someone says where to sit and when to go downstairs to where everyone gets their temperature checked and waits in more lines of chairs for registration. That goes quickly, and after even more chairs, there’s a single line to stand in where I take a picture of one of the striking paintings hanging everywhere. Then I get sent to room 18 for my shot of the BioNTech vaccine. After another line, I wait fifteen minutes beside another painting before going home. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 May 2021)


Painting next to the last line I waited in.

I sat by the trees during the waiting time after the shot.



Monday, May 10, 2021

Getting a vaccination – a shot and a jab

Although I've long heard my British friends in Basel call vaccinations "jabs", I still think of mine tomorrow a "shot". Yet I've noticed that many North Americans online have been calling their vaccinations "jabs". To check if that's an Anglicism, I looked up "jab" in the OED – and in 1914, "jab" as "an injection with a hypodermic needle" was originally slang among American morphine and cocaine users. Yet my sense that, until recently, "jab" was primarily British English is confirmed by the 2012-2013 data in the GLoWBE corpus, which has "flu jab" more common in the UK (354 uses to 11), and "flu shot" in North America (862 uses to 67). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 May 2021)



Sunday, May 09, 2021

The poem as a map to walk: Memorizing Adrienne Rich's "Dreamwood"

Since I've begun to experience the pleasure of memorizing literary texts and have discovered that memorization opens up new perspectives for criticism and interpretation, I have learned three Adrienne Rich poems by heart that my students chose for discussion in our seminar: "For Memory", "Dreamwood", and "The Novel". "Dreamwood" is especially nice to recite from memory: it describes how the woman in the poem sees the scratched wood of a writing table as "a map laid down to memorize / because she might be walking it." Every time I run through the poem again, out loud or in my mind, I see the poem as that map, with me walking it. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 May 2021)

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Adrienne Rich, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust

Adrienne Rich's "The Novel" describes the intoxicating experience of reading Tolstoy: "All winter you went to bed early, drugging yourself on 'War and Peace'". The poem continues with images of Prince Andrei and of Natasha "grow[ing] into a neutered thing", but that first line echoes the opening of Marcel Proust's "Du côté du chez Swann": "Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure." While Proust explores how tasting the madeline doubles memory and experience, Rich considers the doubling of reading and daily experience: "Prince Andrei’s cold eyes taking in the sky from the battlefield / were your eyes [...] / You went walking in the streets as if you were ordinary." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 May 2021)


Friday, May 07, 2021

Amount, number, and count and non-count nouns

A student wrote about "a large amount of computer servers" needing "large amounts of electricity to keep working." The prescriptive rule says that "amount" should only be followed by non-count nouns (such as "electricity"), while count nouns (such as "servers") should be preceded by "number". But this rule does not correspond to usage evidence. While "number" is indeed never used for non-count nouns (nobody says "number of electricity"), "amount" is used for both cases. I confirmed this by examining a small sample of uses of "amount of" and "number of" in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, but it would also be interesting to consider international and historical variations in usage. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 May 2021)

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Vaccination appointments in Basel-Stadt

On 2 March 2021, I registered for the coronavirus vaccination in Basel-Stadt. Today, I got my two appointments: one on this coming Tuesday, 11 May, the second on Tuesday, 8 June. When the text message arrived and I saw it was from the vaccination center, I first thought it would be another waiting-list confirmation. But then I saw what it was – and I wasn't at all surprised to notice what a relief it is to finally have vaccination appointments. So if you're in Basel-Stadt and you signed up after 2 March, this is just to let you know that you'll hopefully soon be feeling the same relief about getting an appointment! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 May 2021)

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

As a result, as a consequence, in consequence: Native-speaker intution and corpus results

A student wrote "as a consequence" in two texts for the "111 Words a Day" class, and I commented that, to my ear, the usual phrase is "as a result", with the alternative "in consequence". But then I decided to check my "ear" against usage: the Corpus of Contemporary American English contains 3515 cases of "as a consequence", 47,363 cases of "as a result", and 732 cases of "in consequence". So my "ear" is partly right: "as a result" is the much more common phrase. But it's also wrong: "as a consequence" outnumbers "in consequence." Still, even if my native-speaker intuition is not 100% reliable, it does provide a testable hypothesis. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 May 2021)

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Walking through German woods

While my daughter Luisa was riding in Rümmingen for two hours early this evening, I went for a long, windy, slightly rainy walk around the countryside, exploring paths I hadn't taken before. I found myself on a road through beautiful, well-tended woods vibrant with springtime green. Such woods are typical in Germany, but beyond the excellent forestry, I also noticed that they are typical of the opening scenes of murder mysteries on German television. The thought was enough to make it a little bit uncanny to be walking there alone, but then I came across an unusual yet reassuring scene: beside the road, a tree stump that some children had decorated. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 May 2021)




Monday, May 03, 2021

Epicurus and Zagajewski: Memory and Suffering in the Mutilated World

On his deathbed, Epicurus wrote to his friend and disciple Idomeneus that his "gladness of mind at the memory of [their] past conversations" helped him overcome the pain he was suffering. I learned about this letter from the Epicurus episodes in the podcast "The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps", by Peter Adamson, professor of philosophy in Munich and London, and it crossed my mind again when I recently memorized Adam Zagajewski's poem "Try To Praise the Mutilated World", which offers a memory of companionship as one reason for that praise: "Remember the moments when we were together / in a white room and the curtain fluttered" (in Clare Cavanagh's translation). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 May 2021)


File:Sanzio 01 Epicurus.jpg
Epicurus (?), from Raphael's "School of Athens" (1509-1511)

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Where I came from, what I knew, and Adrienne Rich's "For Memory"

In Adrienne Rich's "For Memory", there are things "we must [...] simply say": "this is where I came from / this is what I knew". With Rich, I come from being a reader of her poetry from the early 1980s on (and even her student in a Feminist Studies class in 1986). Back then, I knew – and wanted to mend – what Rich calls "gashes in our understandings / of this world", but I also thought I knew that change would come from epiphanies, such as "walk[ing] out / under the Milky Way", rather than from "daily" and "routine" work like the raking of the leaves at the beginning of the poem. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 May 2021)


For Memory

Adrienne Rich, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981)


Old words: trust     fidelity

Nothing new yet to take their place.


I rake leaves, clear the lawn, October grass

painfully green beneath the gold

and in this silent labor thoughts of you

start up

I hear your voice: disloyalty     betrayal

stinging the wires


I stuff the old leaves into sacks

and still they fall and still

I see my work undone


One shivering rainswept afternoon

and the whole job to be done over


I can’t know what you know

unless you tell me

there are gashes in our understandings

of this world

We came together in a common

fury of direction

barely mentioning difference

(what drew our finest hairs

to fire

the deep, difficult troughs


I fell through a basement railing

the first day of school and cut my forehead open–

did I ever tell you? More than forty years

and I still remember smelling my own blood

like the smell of a new schoolbook

And did you ever tell me

how your mother called you in from play

and from whom? To what? These atoms filmed by ordinary dust

that common life we each and all bent out of orbit from

to which we must return simply to say

this is where I came from

this is what I knew


The past is not a husk    yet change goes on


Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out

under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers

of light, the fields of dark–

freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine

remembering. Putting together, inch by inch

the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.