It’s been all poetry, all the time here in the apartment for the last few weeks.
I’ve been working on getting the first print edition of The Found Poetry Review ready for the printer and continuing to work on my own found poems. I’ll also be giving a reading with one of the poets we published in FPR, Martin Bartels, over at VisArts in Rockville the evening of October 4, so have been putting some thought into that.
What’s new and most exciting is that I’ve also started a free online course in Modern and Contemporary Poetry (henceforth called ModPo) offered by UPenn through Coursera. I heard about it through one of my poetry contacts on social media and instantly signed up, figuring that if it ended up being lackluster, I’d simply not participate.
And then the opposite happened.
It had the makings of something good simply on the syllabus alone. Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, The Beats, The New York School and so on: these are my favorite folks. (I raise an eyebrow at, but ultimately excuse, the omission of Eliot only because he’s a pretty hard nut to crack in such a limited time frame and with a lot of folks new to studying poetry).
Still, based on past experiences trying out free “classes” online, I knew the delivery mechanism could derail even the best syllabus. In the MoPo course, we read the poem and — when available — listen to an audio recording of the poet reading the piece. We then watch a video discussion on the poem featuring the professor, Al Filreis, and several TAs, and have the opportunity to engage in rich discussions on the course message boards.
It’s a combination that really works for me – the video discussions are authentic to what I experienced in grad school and allow multiple perspectives to be represented. The discussion boards, while completely overwhelming, actually facilitate some sophisticated and in-depth discussions of the poems we’re studying beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t.” Instead of turning to Facebook and Twitter to kill time in the evening and weekends, I turn to the forums, where inevitably someone has added a new interpretation or question to ponder.
I could go on, but will end by bullet-pointing some unintended consequences of participating in the ModPo course:
- The academia vs. “real world” battle surges again. Participating in this course virtually has reminded me how much I love academia with its intense study, discussions and people. It was a very hard decision to stop at my master’s degree four years ago and give the working world a try. I enjoy my job and the people and company I work with, but I’m never going to light up about web writing and digital communications the way I do about literature and composition. Fact.
- On the other hand, it’s nice to more fully develop poetry as a pastime. Sure I’ve been casually reading and practicing poetry for some time now, but enrolling in this course has allowed me to be more purposeful about it and is exposing me to new pieces and meanings that help flesh out my existing body of knowledge.
- Not only that, but it’s facilitated in-person relationships with like-minded people. We have an in-person ModPo group that meets every Thursday in DC. While we’ve only met twice so far, I’m excited about the people and their poetic interpretations – both of which can be quite different from my own.
- Lastly, it’s bolstered my confidence about discussing poetry. Poetry has largely been a private passion of mine up until this course. Participating in the forums and in the in-person meetings makes me realize that I do have relevant, valuable things to say about the poems we’re studying. It gives me the courage to pursue other in-person classes and discussion groups in the city.
I have much more to say, but will conclude for now by saying it’s an exercise in feeling less alone. For the longest time and with the exception of a few folks, I’ve been the only one in my circle of family, friends and acquaintances who enjoys poetry. Because they know little about it and, for the most part, aren’t interested in discussing it, it’s been a private exercise of mine and one that I haven’t been able to share with others.
More than 30,000 people registered for the course and thousands are participating in forums: all out of a love and interest in poetry. It’s incredibly heartening.