Monday, October 31, 2022

"The old man accepts a Lucky Strike": Lucky Strikes and Elizabeth Bishop's "At the Fishhouses"

This morning, while preparing Elizabeth Bishop's "At the Fishhouses" (from "North & South", 1946) for discussion in my seminar on Bishop's poetry, I looked up the history of the cigarette brand mentioned in the poem: "The old man accepts a Lucky Strike." It began as a brand of chewing tobacco in 1871, with the cigarettes only introduced later. During the 1930s and 1940s, when Bishop wrote the poem, the brand was very popular in the United States. Among many cultural references to Lucky Strikes, the Lucky Strike Wikipedia page does not mention Bishop's poem. If I knew how to edit Wikipedia pages, I'd put in an entry for the poem now. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 October 2022)

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Red states, blue states, and the Electoral College

When I left the United States in 1991 to spend a year in Berlin (which has turned into a life in Germany and then Switzerland), the concept of "red states and blue states" for "Republican and Democratic states" was unknown; that specific color-coding only arose during the contested 2000 presidential election. But there had long been United States maps showing which states presidential candidates had won. Such maps are a result of the Electoral College system; with a vote for President that only tallied who won the most votes in the whole country, there would be no red states or blue states (at least as far as the presidency is concerned). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 October 2022)

Saturday, October 29, 2022

"Whilst", "while", and British and US English

Some of my students write "whilst" where I would use "while". I thought this was a distinction between British English and US English, so I checked some linguistic corpora to see if that is true. The British National Corpus of 100 million words created through 1993 has 5695 uses of "whilst" and 54,067 uses of "while". The Corpus  of Contemporary American English, which is more recent (1990-2019) and has one billion words, has 4817 uses of "whilst" and 662,619 uses of "while". So "whilst" is not the preferred term in British English, but it is ten times more common (or it used to be) in the UK than in the US.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 October 2022)

Friday, October 28, 2022

Bloodshot Nights and Sleepless Eyes: From automatic writing to a class's co-authored poem

First, the students in my poetry and songwriting class did seven minutes of automatic writing (nonstop writing, no editing). Then they went through the automatic text to find nouns and verbs and write sentences with them (either realistic or surrealistic). They then emailed me one of their sentences, and I copied them into a Word file. I put the list of sentences into the list randomizer at, and the resulting numbered list became the class's co-authored poem. I chose its title based on another issue we had discussed in the course of the morning, in which I turned a stock phrase into something new by exchanging the adjectives in it. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 October 2022)


Bloodshot Nights and Sleepless Eyes


  1. The door that has no story, is mine to write upon.
  2. And I clear my head from worries.
  3. It takes hard work and fortitude to get out of bed.
  4. A fountain pen filled with coffee, black it would be.
  5. I hike to see the sunrise but I am not a morning person.
  6. I enjoy my freshly brewed cappuccino covered under a huge cozy blanket.
  7. Whose potato mush got slapped.
  8. Snot bubbles and oozes over my fingers, onto my chin I'm running out of tissues.
  9. I fucking hate coffee, she is my nemesis.
  10. I wrote these words on the wall of a dirty bathroom stall, praying God will take my damned soul tonight.
  11. Day by day by day I sit on the floor and talk to the wall like I've never talked to anyone before.
  12. Daylight hills like a crown and I'm alright for the first time in a long time.
  13. I relax with strangers on the morning train to university.
  14. The Latin teacher's job is to take up as much space in your brain as possible.
  15. Jackets are for wet bodies.


Songs and Poems class, 20221028

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Players I have seen at the Swiss Indoors in Basel over the years

I first went to the Swiss Indoors in Basel in 2001, when I saw Tim Henman defeat Roger Federer in the final. Since then, to see more matches, I've always gone earlier in the tournament. And even though I've only been four other times (that I remember), over the years I have had the opportunity to see Stan Wawrinka, James Blake, Juan Martin del Potro, David Nalbandian, Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet, John Isner, and Andy Roddick, among others. Today, I won't get to see Carlos Alcaraz, as I had hoped (he played last night), but I'll finally be seeing Andy Murray, one more Grand Slam champion to add to my list. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 October 2022)

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Remembering my son's multicultural youth football team in Riehen, Switzerland

My son Miles played junior football at Amicitia Riehen for eight years (from the ages of 6 to 14). The players and coaches spoke Basel German all the time, but many of the players spoke other languages as well: High German, English (American, British, and Irish), Turkish, Serbian, and perhaps one or two others I have forgotten. Once, the coach took advantage of one player's English and asked me to shout out to him that he should try to score directly from the free kick he was about to take, so I shouted, "Shoot for a goal!" And the boy took aim and fired a perfect shot just under the crossbar. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 October 2022)

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Is there an "atmospheric clock" or "Atmos clock" in Elizabeth Bishop's "The Colder the Air"?

One of the puzzles in Elizabeth Bishop's poem "The Colder the Air" is the title, whose slim connection to the body of the poem is two mentions of "air", especially the "winter air" in the poem's second line. There's also a mysterious "clock" referred to in the poem's next-to-last line, which follows a reference to "atmosphere." Following a hunch, I found out that an "Atmos clock" runs without winding on the basis of small variations in air temperature and pressure, so that "the colder the air" gets, the more it winds itself. I'm not convinced that Bishop was referring to such a clock, but at least that would explain the title. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 October 2022)

Monday, October 24, 2022

People "whose papers are wrong" in Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit" (1857)

In Charles Dickens's "Little Dorrit" (1857), which takes place "thirty years ago" in Marseille, the murderer Monsieur Rigaud complains about being in prison "with a poor little contraband trader, whose papers are wrong",  who was arrested after he had loaned his boat to "other little people whose papers are wrong". In my re-reading of the novel as part of my project of reading or re-reading all of Dickens's novels, I was struck by the idea of people having the wrong papers appearing in roughly the middle of the nineteenth century. I would have thought that the figures of stateless people and sans papiers only began to emerge in the twentieth cenutry. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 October 2022)

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Michael Bully Herbig, "Buddy", and "Tausende Zeilen"

German director Michael Bully Herbig made his name with slapstick comedy, so I didn't expect much when I saw "Buddy" on New Year's Day in 2014. The film, with Herbig as Buddy, a guardian angel, turned out to be a pleasantly surprising and very well made comedy romance with a sweet twist at the end. And when I later saw it again, I was further pleased to discover that it held up well to a second viewing. Today, I saw Herbig's new "Tausend Zeilen", an equally well-made, based-on-a-true-story film about fraud in journalism. Herbig may have started with light comedy, but he has developed into a solid, entertaining, and thought-provoking director. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 October 2022)

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Remembering the art criticism of Peter Schjeldahl (1942-2022)

Peter Schjeldahl (1942-2022) was the New Yorker's art critic from 1998 until his death yesterday. He was the magazine's only regular critic whose articles I read even when the subject didn't interest me. He had two excellent characteristics of a good critic: first, he always found an angle or an idea that made the work under discussion speak to me even when I'd never had any experience of it. Secondly, he could not only change his mind but also reflect on why: I often recall an article about a Roy Lichtenstein retrospective that traced the development of his response to the artist from dislike to respect over the course of decades. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 October 2022)

Friday, October 21, 2022

Songs and poems written in ballad form about highly publicized events: Silverstein, Dylan, Randall, Young, and Lightfoot

This week, my poetry and songwriting course looked at telling stories in poems and songs using ballad forms, with three examples: Marianne Faithfull's song "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" (by Shel Silverstein), Bob Dylan's song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", and Dudley Randall's poem "Ballad of Birmingham" (later set to music by Jerry Moore). The ballads by Dylan and Randall both responded to highly publicized events, so I also told my students about two other cases of songs written after such events: Neil Young's "Ohio", his response to the National Guard shootings at Kent State University, and Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", his response to a shipwreck. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 October 2022)

Thursday, October 20, 2022

"A woman talks on the phone": A phrase that made me stumble in a 2004 poem by Adrienne Rich

One image in the scene that Adrienne Rich describes in her poem "Behind the Motel" (in "Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems 2004-2006") made me stumble when I read it the other day: "a woman talks on the phone, looking in the mirror." I wondered for a moment why it didn't say "her phone", and then I realized that I read it that way because I was picturing the woman speaking on a mobile phone rather than what is now called a landline. These days, the possessive pronoun seems more likely to my ear; I would speak of myself as being "on my phone", I think, rather than "on the phone". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 October 2022)

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The dynamics of the speech of a German television football commentator

While watching the German Cup match between Bayern Munich and Augsburg this evening, Andrea and I discussed what made the match's primary commentator irritating. It was not the content of his commentary, which was a typical mix of prepared background remarks about the players and teams and mentioning who was passing to whom and who was tackling whom. Instead, it was something about how he spoke: not that he was too loud or too shrill or too nasal, but that the volume of his voice hardly varied. Even though he was not especially loud, the lack of dynamics in his speech made it seem like he was shouting all the time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 October 2022)

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Philip Carey's joyful acceptance at the end of W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage"

Near the end of W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" (1915), when Philip Carey's lover Sally tells him she might be pregnant, he experiences an epiphany of Nietzschean affirmation: "And thinking over the long pilgrimage of his past he accepted it joyfully. He accepted the deformity which had made life so hard for him; he knew that it had warped his character, but now he saw also that by reason of it he had acquired that power of introspection which had given him so much delight." The twist is that she turns out not to have been pregnant after all, but his vision of unconditional acceptance of his life's experiences remains. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 October 2022)

Monday, October 17, 2022

The liberals, the conservatives, and electoral fraud in Gabriel García Márquez's "Cien años de soledad"

Before an election in Gabriel García Márquez's "Cien años de soledad" (1967), Aureliano Buendía's father-in-law Apolinar Moscote explains the difference between liberals and conservatives to him: Among other things, the liberals want to hang the priests and give equal rights to illegitimate sons, while the conservatives "receive power directly from God". After the vote, Moscote seals the urn, but that night he opens it to take out all but ten of the pink ballots for the liberals and reseal it, leaving all the blue ballots for the conservatives inside. The party that sees its power as God-given engages in electoral fraud to maintain its power over the party of equal rights. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 October 2022)


Sunday, October 16, 2022

An "imaginary view" and a "correct belief" in the "binational" United States

In their article "These Disunited States" in the New York Review of Books (22 September 2022), Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson describe the United States as a "binational" country with "a deep and durable tension between a Christian white-supremacist ideology that evolved to justify slavery and a broad-based multiethnic resistance to it", adding that the "language used by the two sides to describe each other reflects a mutual loathing." But their summary of that language marks a key feature of that tension, an "imaginary view" vs. a "correct belief": "Trump’s base harbors an imaginary view of blue states", while Democrats "believe, correctly, that Republicans have entrenched a kind of minority rule." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 October 2022)


Saturday, October 15, 2022

"Looking into the heart of light, the silence": The 100th anniversary of the first publication of T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"

T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" was published 100 years ago today in the first issue of "The Criterion". Although I haven't returned to it as a whole in years, I have read it many times before. Still, its sound on reading it again is entrancing. Many forgotten passages strike me anew, but even all the familiar passages remain overwhelming – this most of all: "Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden, / Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, / Looking into the heart of light, the silence." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 October 2022)

Friday, October 14, 2022

An improvised "Red Wheelbarrow" performance with students this morning

For a poetry class this morning, I handed each arriving student a strip of paper with either the title, a line, or a stanza of William Carlos Williams's "The Red Wheelbarrow"; there were also three with the full poem, Williams's "This Is Just To Say", and Mary Ruefle's "Red". I said: "The performance has already started. Recite what's on your piece of paper as often as you like, until the performance ends." Things started slowly, though one student was enthusiastically calling out, "chickens!" When I started to conduct them, two students started singing, and by the time we finished with readings of all three poems, we'd had a great time improvising. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 October 2022)

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Philip Carey's clubfoot and the anger of others in W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage"

In W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" (1915), Philip Carey has a clubfoot. During his medical studies, a surgeon gives him an operation that reduces how visible his limp is. Mostly, other people do not comment on it, but Philip notices a pattern about when they do, as when his uncle the vicar, who raised him, lashes out at him: "Philip knew by now that whenever anyone was angry with him his first thought was to say something about his clubfoot. His estimate of the human race was determined by the fact that scarcely anyone failed to resist the temptation." Ableism first erases his condition, then highlights it to denigrate him. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 October 2022)

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

An exemplary use of video review in today's Champions League between Atlético Madrid and Club Brugge

Late in the scoreless first half of the UEFA Champions League group-phase match between Atlético Madrid and Club Brugge this evening, Brugge's winger Tajon Buchanan entered the penalty area with the ball and had a run-in with Atlético's left back Nahuel Molina. After the referee called a penalty for Brugge, the video-assistant referee intervened, and the referee reversed his call: the video made clear that Buchanan had stepped on Molina's ankle, not vice versa. Video review may still generate a great deal of discussion, but this was precisely the kind of call that it was designed to fix: when the referee's initial call is clearly wrong in such a significant situation. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 October 2022)

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Current vaccination options for covid in Basel-Stadt

I already got my second booster (and fourth vaccination) for covid, but as of yesterday, if you haven't done so yet, the new Moderna bivalent vaccine for COVID-19 is available in Basel-Stadt at the cantonal vaccination center at Messeplatz 21. From now until 24 October, appointments are necessary; after that, walk-in vaccinations will be available. The opening hours vary from day to day; check the website to see when the center is open. For those looking for other types of vaccine, appointments for vaccinations with viral-vector vaccines from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson are available from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and can be made online or by telephone. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 October 2022)


Monday, October 10, 2022

Sherlock Holmes as an eccentric defender of the imperial center against the colonial margins

In Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet" (1887) and "The Sign of the Four" (1890), Sherlock Holmes may be an outsider, eccentric both in his lifestyle and in his detective methods, but he also serves as the final defense against violence returning from former and current colonies to the home country. In "A Study in Scarlet", the Mormon settlement of  desolate nineteenth-century Utah provides the background for the murder; in "The Sign of the Four", the Indian back story even brings a "savage" back from the Andaman Islands to commit murder with a poison dart. With his eccentric detection, Holmes defends the British center against backlash from the colonial margins. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 October 2022)

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Forty years of listening to The Grateful Dead and the release of "In and Out of the Garden: Madison Square Garden '81, '82, '83"

Forty years ago today, my friend Steve and I went to hear The Grateful Dead for the first time at Stanford's Frost Amphitheater. Within seconds after the start of the first song, "Alabama Getaway", Steve turned to me and said, "I'm a Deadhead." And I became one that weekend, too. For those whose live introduction to the band was in the early 1980s, there have not been very many releases in their extensive archival releases, but as of a few weeks ago, the sound of those years can be heard clearly on "In and Out of the Garden", a set of six shows from Madison Square Garden from 1981 to 1983. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 October 2022)

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Margaret Mead, the healed femur, and the accurate attribution of a quotation

The first sign of civilization in the archaeological record is a fossilized femur with signs that it was broken and then healed: this idea is attributed to Margaret Mead. As Quote Investigator has shown, though, it appears not in her own works but only as an anecdote about a Mead lecture in a 1980 book by Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A Surgeon Looks at the Human and Spiritual Body." To present the captivating idea accurately while also still being able to appeal to the famous anthropologist's authority, one cannot avoid a somewhat clumsy phrase like "as Margaret Mead is said to have claimed in a lecture." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 October 2022)


Friday, October 07, 2022

Revenge in London for injustice elsewhere in Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Sign of the Four"

In both "A Study in Scarlet" (1887) and "The Sign of the Four" (1890), the novels by Arthur Conan Doyle that introduced the character of Sherlock Holmes, the murder the detective solves is committed in London as revenge for acts committed far away: in Utah in "A Study in Scarlet"; in India in "The Sign of the Four". Further, both murderers, Jefferson Hope in "A Study in Scarlet" and Jonathan Small in "The Sign of the Four", have the opportunity after their arrest to justify their revenge at great length by telling the story that explains why they were led to the mysterious murders that only Holmes is able to solve. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 October 2022)

Thursday, October 06, 2022

"That's not football; these are poems": Poetry as a figure in football commentary

During the match between Manchester City and Copenhagen last night, the commentator on Swiss sports channel Blue said this about the home team: "Das ist kein Fussball; das sind Gedichte, die Manchester City zeigt" ("This isn't football; these are poems"). I noted that to mention to students in my poetry classes tomorrow – and then a commentator for Swiss channel SRF made a similar remark about a goal by RB Leipzig in the summary of their match against Glasgow Celtic: "Dieses Treffen ist nur eines, ein Fussballgedicht" ("This goal is only one thing, a football-poem"). Athletes may not usually read poetry, but the poem is a figure for athletic expression and success. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 October 2022)

[See also this post from long ago about a goal by Sergio Agüero.]

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Lynne Truss, Liz Truss, and the "zombie rules" of grammar and economics

When I first heard the name of British politician Liz Truss, I mixed her up with Lynne Truss, whose 2003 book on language use I read years ago, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation". Soon after its publication, the linguist Arnold Zwicky coined the expression "zombie rules" to refer to the language peeves that Lynne Truss and others write about: long since discredited, they live on anyway. Now that she's Prime Minister, Liz Truss has proven that she, too, loves zombie rules – in her case, those of "supply-side economics" and "trickle-down theory", with the long-discredited claim that tax cuts for the rich generate economic growth for all. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 October 2022)

Monday, October 03, 2022

The youngest Nobel laureates in literature were Rudyard Kipling and Albert Camus

The Nobel Prize in Literature, which will be announced on Thursday, is awarded not for individual works but for a body of work published in the course of a career. The youngest literature laureate was Rudyard Kipling in 1907, when he turned 42, but he had been publishing steadily since he was 20. The second youngest was Albert Camus in 1957, when he turned 44, but he had already published a dozen or more books, including "L'Étranger" and "Le Mythe de Sisyphe" in 1942 alone (at 29). By my count, six others have received the award before turning 50. It makes it hard to win it if you die too young. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 October 2022)

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Sherlock Holmes's "Parthian shot" in Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet" (1887)

In Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet" (1887), just before Sherlock Holmes leaves the scene of the story's first murder, he tells Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade "one other thing" (that "Rache", painted in blood on the wall, is the German word for "revenge"). So Holmes, like Mr. Bucket in Dicken's "Bleak House", anticipates Columbo's later use of the same tactic. But then Dr John Watson characterizes Holmes's remark as a "Parthian shot". This cavalry tactic made famous by the Parthians of ancient Iran involves the considerable skill of riding forward while using a bow to fire arrows backward; the phrase is also the source of our expression "a parting shot". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 October 2022)

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Three weeks of covid and two weeks of missed classes

After my wife Andrea tested positive for covid on 6 September and I had early flu symptoms, I knew I'd test positive, too. And I did on Friday, 9 September. Andrea was better in about ten days; for me, it took around twenty: I finally started to feel better on Wednesday and Thursday this week. I had to cancel the first two weeks of my classes for this semester, but now I'm feeling much better and am ready to teach on Tuesday. This semester, I'm especially looking forward to my seminar on Elizabeth Bishop's poetry; in the first session, we'll discuss her poem "Late Air". Yesterday, I prepared by memorizing it. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 October 2022)