Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"Combating terrorism through financial sanctions, bombing, and drone strikes": Heather Cox Richardson, Biden's anti-terror policy, and American violence

While I read Heather Cox Richardson's "Letters from an American" every day, her letter of 30 August 2021 doesn't offer her usual comprehensive overview on the drone strike "against ISIS-K for the attack on the Kabul airport [...] last Friday", which is part of the Biden administration's approach to "combating terrorism through financial sanctions, bombing, and drone strikes". But according to reports summarized by Murtaza Hussain, that drone strike, like so many others over the years, "killed 10 civilians from one family, including several children". Elsewhere in that letter, Richardson raises justifiable concerns about the violent rhetoric of Republican politicians, but she fails to connect that violence to American violence abroad. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 August 2021)



Monday, August 30, 2021

"A man walks out of a shop, notice he doesn't die": Roy McFarlane's "Rashan Charles, 2017" and Oscar Grant in "Fruitvale Station"

In "Rashan Charles, 2017", the last poem in the sequence "... they killed them" in Roy McFarlane's "The Healing Next Time", almost every prose stanza begins with the phrase "A man walks into a shop [...]". But the final section shifts: "A man walks out of a shop, notice he doesn't die" – followed by ordinary things Charles would have done if he hadn't died during an encounter with the police. I'm reminded of what I thought when Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther" was released with Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger: I wished Oscar Grant, the police-shooting victim Jordan played in Coogler's "Fruitvale Station", had survived to take his daughter to the movie. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 August 2021)

Michael B. Jordan and Ariana Neal as Oscar and Tatiana Grant in "Fruitvale Station".

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The clichéd Casaubons in "The Chair"

Because enrollment in the English Department in the Netflix series "The Chair" is dropping, the Dean wants high-salaried older professors to take early retirement. The series takes place in the present, so these professors must be in their early sixites. They would have been in high school and college in the seventies, growing up on punk rock and new wave, and in their careers, they would have been engaged in the academic culture wars that began in the 1990s. Yet they are depicted as absent-minded, out-of-touch Casaubons whose scholarship is old-fashioned and whose courses are boring. Such cliches undermine the show's earnest attempts to address the problems of contemporary higher education. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 August 2021)


Netflix's 'The Chair' Review: Sandra Oh Rules in a Quick ...

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The oldest musicians I've heard live: Hank Jones, Joe Haider, and Heinz von Herrmann

Last night at the Bird's Eye in Basel, pianist Joe Haider mentioned several times that he's 85. That makes him the second-oldest musician I've ever heard live – Hank Jones was 86 when I heard him with Joe Lovano in Basel in April 2005. And Heinz von Herrmann, the tenor saxophonist and flautist in Haider's sextet, comes in third at 84. In 2005, Jones played "Body and Soul" with a sense of joy and discovery all the more wonderful given that he'd presumably been playing it practically since its publication in 1930. And last night, Haider and von Herrmann gave Cole Porter's 1944 song "Every Time We Say Goodbye" the same freshness. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 August 2021)

Friday, August 27, 2021

The rhetoric of "tribes" in President Biden's speech on the Kabul airport bombings

In his speech after yesterday's Kabul airport bombings, President Joe Biden claimed that Afghanistan is "a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country, and is made up — and I don’t mean this in a derogatory — made up of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with one another." I'll leave Afghanistan's history to the country's historians, but when a European-American (especially a President) speaks of "tribes", that terminology draws on the history of the colonization, displacement, and genocide of Native Americans, as well as the erasure of their history and even the enslavement of Africans – and Biden's "not derogatory" disclaimer doesn't help. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 August 2021)


Note: Credit to this tweet by İyad el-Baghdadi for drawing my attention to that part of Biden's speech.

The Durrani Empire at its maximum extent under Ahmad Shah Durrani, late 1750s
"The Durrani Empire at its maximum extent under Ahmad Shah Durrani, late 1750s" (Wikipedia)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

"But close, the painting knows him" (Roy McFarlane); "step inside a Rothko painting" (Nina Mingya Powles)

Last week, I wrote about how we can know works of art without experiencing them directly. Since then, I read a poem by Roy McFarlane, "No woman, no cry", which is "after the painting by Chris Ofili" and complicates my point by reversing it: "He knows the painting from articles and downloads, he knows the painting from a distance but close, the painting knows him [...]". The work can only "know" us when we experience it – a point also made more obliquely in a poem by Nina Mingya Powles, "Colour fragments", who wants to "step inside a Rothko painting", because "[i]f you stare long enough it seems to get bigger [...]." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 August 2021)


Chris Ofili, "No Woman, No Cry"

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Listening to The Rolling Stones as a child and a teen in the 60s and 70s

In the late 1960s, my parents listened to now-classic singers and bands, including The Rolling Stones. By the late 1970s, though, baroque music was my parents' favorite; one composer whose name I heard often was Georg Telemann. So the first Rolling Stones music I discovered by myself was "Some Girls" in 1978, especially the "Miss You" single. Today I put on a few songs from it and paid attention to Charlie Watts on drums. He's quoted on the "Miss You" page on Wikipedia: "A lot of those songs [...] were heavily influenced by going to the discos. You can hear it in a lot of those four-to-the-floor and the Philadelphia-style drumming." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 August 2021)



Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The restraint of Filippo Meneghetti's "Deux" – and the eyes and face of Martine Chevallier

Filippo Meneghetti's "Deux" (2019) does without so much, and that makes it a strong movie. There's no voice over to explain things; the back story of the characters is only hinted at rather than filled in; the film does not end with the story's problems resolving. But it does end with the smile of Madeleine (Martine Chevallier), who suffers from aphasia after a stroke, which leaves her long-term but secret lover Nina (Barbara Sukowa) cut off from contact with her. These are issues that push my emotional buttons, but they are handled with the restraint by Meneghetti and the actors – above all Chevallier with her expressive face and her extraordinary eyes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 August 2021)


Deux filmstill
Léa Drucker and Martine Chevallier in "Deux"

Monday, August 23, 2021

Going to the cinema on my birthday

Three years ago, I celebrated my birthday with a visit to the cinema with friends and family to see the opening of Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman"; two years ago, I made it a tradition with the opening of Gurinder Chadha's "Blinded by the Light". Last year, I didn't organize a movie night because of the pandemic – but I was also sick, with what turned out to be appendicitis, so I didn't write my daily prose for the first time since I had begun doing so at the beginning of 2020. This year, I'm well, the cinemas are open, and Andrea and I are planning to go to Filippo Meneghetti's "Deux" this evening. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 August 2021)



Sunday, August 22, 2021

Cutting boards and paper filters for coffee: Associations between things and people

I have strong associations between simple activities or objects and particular people. When I'm using a cutting board, I often think of my late mother-in-law and a conversation I had with her about "Brettschneiden" and "Handschneiden" (cutting vegetables on a board or in one's hand). When I make get out the filter paper to make coffee, I often think of my professor and friend John Felstiner, translator of Pablo Neruda and Paul Celan: in the summer of 1990, I did some housesitting for him, and when he explained the coffee maker to me, I was surprised that he had brown filter papers – it was the first time I had seen them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 August 2021)

Paper Coffee Filter - White or Brown Which is Better?

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Osip Mandelstam "sings the wine of the Ages" but "no one catches [his] words": Alistair Noon's translations of Mandelstam

In "Concert at a Railway Station" (Shearsman 2018), Alistair Noon's translations of Osip Mandelstam, the poems hover between confident assertions of meaning's communicability across time and images doubting moments of communication. In "A Menagerie", Mandelstam "sing[s] the wine of the Ages"; but in "[Our hostess had time ...]", some words cannot be "caught": "[B]ranches shelter the words you don't catch or reply to". The same problem also comes up in "[Through the gypsy camp ...]": "No one catches my words". But then again, in "[We're brimming with life ...]", language reaches beyond such a moment of doubt: "The purple inks continue to write / with stars and tails, to make sense." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 August 2021)

Osip Mandelstam - Concert at a Railway Station. Selected Poems

Friday, August 20, 2021

The "Brannock Device" in Simon Armitage's poem "The Cinderella of Ferndale"

Simon Armitage's poem "The Cinderella of Ferndale" (in "The Unaccompanied", Faber & Faber 2017) taught me the name of something by describing an activity I don't think I've seen in a poem before: "In that small town / there was hardly a foot she hadn’t dressed / or clamped and sized in the Brannock Device, / and barely a toe that hadn’t blenched / at the force of her thumb as she prodded and pressed." Charles Brannock patented his first prototype in 1925, and although I haven't put my foot in a Brannock Device for a long time, I remember the feeling of having my foot "clamped and sized" in one. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 August 2021)





Thursday, August 19, 2021

"A breath in earshot": Glyn Maxwell remembers his mentor Derek Walcott in "Thirty Years"

An elegy after Derek Walcott's death, Glyn Maxwell's "Thirty Years" (in "How the Hell Are You", Picador 2020) recalls Maxwell's time as one of Walcott's Boston University students with "our ballpoints circling what we think you mean". Even decades later, he hears his teacher: "There is a breath in earshot / which isn't always mine, the wince is yours / when the line-break's wrong, the groan / when I reckon something's finished". A "man alone with [his] mentor" is bequeathed that "breath" and "wince" that Maxwell's poem movingly evokes as he remembers Walcott. But sadly, too many female students of male mentors later only "groan" at the memory of sexual harassment. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 August 2021)


Book cover for 9781529037739

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Never running out of books to read and movies to see

This evening, a friend said that she was upset that she would never be able to read all the good books or see all the good movies; she'd be guaranteed to miss things. But I see this differently: we'll never run out of good books to read and good movies to see. And even the things that we don't manage to read and see can still become part of what we know, as we come across allusions to them in other works, hear about them from friends, and read about them in reviews and essays about other works. Even what we don't experience directly, then, can become part of our experience.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 August 2021)



Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Homework as a cheap approach to education

Yesterday, in an interview with Bajour, two Basel schoolchildren, Erijon (12) and Ada (9), called for the elimination of homework; today, Bajour followed up with an interview with Trix Cacchione, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwest Switzerland. She said it would be possible to do without homework, as part of making education both more effective and more efficient. But she added that it would take more resources: more teachers, better teacher education, and higher salaries would be needed. The striking implication is that giving schoolchildren homework may not be the best way to educate them, but it is a cheap way to get results. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 August 2021)

Kinder sind häufig gestresst. Muss das sein?


Monday, August 16, 2021

The Who and The Clash, 23 October 1982, Oakland Coliseum

In "No Elvis, Beatles Or The Rolling Stones", Rafaël Newman links that line from The Clash's "1977" to the band's 1979 "London Calling" album, with its echo of the cover of Elvis Presley's 1956 debut album and Paul Simonon smashing his bass on stage, "a destructive gesture borrowed from The Who". The only time I ever saw The Who and The Clash live was at Oakland Coliseum on 23 October, 1982, on what was supposed to be The Who's farewell tour. The contrast couldn't have been more extreme: The Who were listless and perfunctory, The Clash explosive and committed, most memorably when "The Magnificent Seven" from "Sandinista!" segued into "Armagideon Time". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 August 2021)


The Clash, Oakland Coliseum, 23 October 1982, photo by Joel Eisenberg, more here

Sunday, August 15, 2021

My tenth Hildegard Lernt Fliegen concert and my twentieth Andreas Schärer concert

I first saw Swiss vocalist Andreas Schärer and his band Hildegard Lernt Fliegen at the Willisau Jazz Festival in 2012 on a double bill with the Bill Frisell Quartet (whom I'd seen several times already). I was so taken by Schärer I began to go to his concerts regularly, and yesterday, I saw Hildegard Lernt Fliegen for the tenth time – and Schärer for the twentieth. That's more often than I've seen Frisell; I've only seen The Grateful Dead more often than that. But I saw the Dead over eighty times (and a couple dozen Jerry Garcia shows on top of that), so I've got a few more Schärer concerts to go! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 August 2021)

Hildegard Lernt Fliegen, Burgdorf, 14 August 2021

Saturday, August 14, 2021

"Every second street name is a shout out to my captors": Roger Robinson's "Citizen I"

In Roger Robinson's "Citizen I", from his collection "A Portable Paradise" (Peepal Tree 2019), an immigrant to the United Kingdom in danger of being deported  after decades in the country observes that "[e]very second street name is a shout out to my captors." A shoutout is a public acknowledgment of someone who has made some kind of contribution to an individual, institution, or culture. Here, the speaker has made that contribution by doing the daily, low-paid work that keeps a society running, yet streets are named not after such workers but after those who became wealthy and influential by enslaving their ancestors – who also did the work that kept society running. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 August 2021)


Friday, August 13, 2021

The pages of the sea in Denise Levertov and Aracelis Girmay

At the end of Denise Levertov's "To the Reader", "the sea is turning its dark pages". While I was reading Aracelis Girmay's "The Black Maria" (Boa 2016), I heard a slight echo of Levertov's line in the poem "to the sea": "we touched / the brief pulse of your fluttering / pages". Although I didn't take this as an explicit allusion, I underlined "pages" as a note to myself. But at the end of the final poem in Girmay's book, "Fourth Estrangement, with a Petition for the Reunion of Jonathan & George Jackson", the possible Levertov connection sounds much more explicit: "the Pacific turning & turning // its infinitely black pages". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 August 2021)


the black maria - BOA Editions, Ltd.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

"My color a study": Skin tone in poetry, painting, photography, and film

In Natasha Trethewey's poem "Thrall", the speaker is Juan de Pareja, a seventeenth-century painter who was first enslaved and then freed by Diego Velázquez: "[...] only once / did he fix me / in paint / my color a study". Skin tone was also a "study" or a problem in the history of color photography, which was designed to capture "caucasian" skin tones accurately. For their film version of James Baldwin's "If Beale Street Could Talk", director Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton made a study of the filming of the actors' skin, so that the movie is full of gorgeous closeup portraits of the leads, Kiki Layne and Stephan James. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 August 2021)


Velázquez, Juan de Pareja

Stephan James and Kiki Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

From my days at the Stanford Recycling Center in the 1980s

A friend sent me a picture from the 1980s yesterday that reminded of a part of my life back then that I don’t remember very often: I often think about learning to speak German, to play guitar, to write poetry, to interpret literature and to discuss philosophy, as well as about working in coffee shops and libraries, becoming a devoted fan of The Grateful Dead, and being a student DJ who ended up specializing in jazz, but I also volunteered for a couple of years at the student-run Stanford Recycling Center, especially on Saturdays with Wade Grey, who ran the center and showed me the loquat trees on the Stanford campus. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 August 2021)



Tuesday, August 10, 2021

From an inclusive to an exclusive "we" in Jack Gilbert's poem "The Lost Hotels of Paris" and collection "Refusing Heaven"

The poems in Jack Gilbert's book "Refusing Heaven" (Knopf 2005) often turn from "I" or "he" to "we" at moments of generalization. These generalizations make space for the "we" forms to refer to all of humanity, but again and again, that broad reach is undermined as the inclusive "we" becomes an exclusive "we" that refers to men but not women, as in this line break in "The Lost Hotels of Paris": "We are / allowed to visits hearts of women [...]." The clause begins with the inclusiveness of all humans but, especially given the book's overall themes, shifts to a heterosexual male "we" that seemingly excludes women from those who "are". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 August 2021)



Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert

Monday, August 09, 2021

Enjambment, grammatical shift, and personification in Matthew Olzmann's "Letter to a Bridge Made of Rope"

In Matthew Olzmann's "Letter to a Bridge Made of Rope", the speaker is crossing a gorge on the titular bridge: "One foot set in front of the other, while the wind / rattles the cage of the living and the rocks down there [...]." As that line ends, the rocks, whether parallel to "the living" or "the cage", are "rattled" by the wind. But after the linebreak, the rocks shift grammatically from object to subject: "[...] the rocks down there / cheer every wobble [...]." With this enjambment, then, the rocks go from physical objects in the scene to the expectant personification of the danger the person crossing the bridge faces. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 August 2021)


Sunday, August 08, 2021

Eleven minutes: A protest against a rape ruling in Basel

There was a protest at the Appellate Court in Basel this afternoon after a decision in a rape case last week: the rapist's sentence was reduced on appeal for several reasons, including that the rape only lasted eleven minutes. As part of the demonstration, we participants stood with our wrists crossed over our heads for eleven minutes. As my upper arms cramped up (and I can still feel the effects now, almost eight hours later), I realized how long eleven minutes can seem – and it would of course have seemed even longer during the rape in question, as the woman being attacked would not have known how long it would continue. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 August 2021)


Saturday, August 07, 2021

Sounds captured in Giovanni Pascoli's poems and Geoffrey Brock's translations

The poems by Giovanni Pascoli that Geoffrey Brock translates in "Last Dream" (World Poetry Books, 2019) are full of sounds: the gracefully captured meter and rhyme; the bird calls, bells, and voices the poet attempts to capture. In "Home", Pascoli locates himself through sounds: "Where am I? The bells / tell me, mournfully, / as a dog howls / at the stranger as he / passes, head bowed, through." Later, though, in "In the Fog", such sounds return with not location but disorientation: "And a dog yelped and yelped, as if in fear, / I knew not where nor why. Perhaps he heard / strange footsteps, neither far away or near". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 August 2021)


Last Dream

Friday, August 06, 2021

The quotation and transformation of Rilke and Sappho in Joyelle McSweeney's "Arachne" sequence

In Joyelle McSweeney's heart-wrenching sequence "Arachne" (in her 2020 Nightboat Books collection "Toxicon and Arachne"), written for her youngest daughter, who died at thirteen days old, there are (at least) two quotations of well-known lines of poetry that are transformed in their new context. The poem "Weight Loss" quotes the opening lines sentence of Rilke's first Duino Elegy: "But if I cried out, who would hear me among the angelic company?" Rilke's general statement becomes McSweeney's particular lament for her daughter. And the poem "The Return of Summer" quotes Sappho: "I count that one equal to a god / who sits next to you goddess". Sappho's erotic lament becomes McSweeney's elegy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 August 2021)


Thursday, August 05, 2021

Time leaps around in Michael Longley's "A Grasshopper"

In Michael Longley's poem "A Grasshopper" in his collection "The Candlelight Master" (Cape 2020), dedicated to his daughter Rebecca for her fiftieth birthday, he shares a "memory of you at four" when she injured her foot, then offers her "after forty-six years" a poem-within-the-poem, a "belated medicament", a "translation from the Greek / (Anacreon?) which I wrote / When I was less than half your age." Time leaps around here between the daughter's adulthood and a childhood memory she may no longer have, as well as between the father's poem composed in his old age and the translation he did as a young man – of a poem over 2500 years old. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 August 2021)



The Candlelight Master