For that last 10 weeks I've been taking my first MOOC, massive open online course on Modern American Poetry taught through the University of Pennsylvania by Al Filreis. The course starts with Whitman and Dickinson and moves through modernists like Williams, Stein and Pound, Communists poets, Harlem Renaissance poets, anti-modernists, the Beats, the New York School, language poets and conceptual poetries.
There were a few amazing things about this class:
- It was haaard: difficult, experimental poems, hours of lectures, four challenging essay assignments. I loved every minute of it but it was very time consuming.
- It was huuuuge. Thirty-five to forty thousand people participated in the 2013 fall class including novices, masters students, and professors, people from all around the world.
- The course utilized the online tools of coursera.org very effectively. In fact, the poetry MOOC is the most popular mooc of all the scholarly topics they surmise because it manages to energize students with/despite its online tools.
- It was an ivy-league quality class offered for FREE!
I've been working this past year to get my head around more experimental and difficult poetries. Al Filreis took us through his version of the American poetry lineage and I actually really enjoyed almost everything we covered. Al is an open, friendly and challenging but cheerful teacher to take you through the world of mind-bending conceptual and meta poetries. This is his bag for the most part. If this isn't your bag, if you think poetry is the language of the Gods and the voice of humanity (which it can be but doesn't have to be all the time), please don't bother with this class. You'll only be a buzz-kill to about 34,900 people.
I didn't agree with everything he said, myself, and I hated the confusing way his online quizzes were worded, but his enthusiasm and help was invaluable and I came out of the class with poets to investigate further, including Whitman and Frank O'Hara who I've already read before and Susan Howe (I bought her My Emily Dickinson). The most mind-blowing piece we discussed was the final poem, Tracie Morris' performance piece Afrika(n) which was a mash-up commentary on pop culture, racial history and computer technology...all in one sentence!
Anyway, my take-aways from the class also included the following amazing things:
- Penn Sound: a huge audio archive of (many famous) poets reading their poems
- Poem Talk Podcasts: Al and small panels discuss modern poems
- The Kelly Writer's House: a place for poetry tourists to visit in Philadelphia
Our last essay was about conceptual Mesostic poetries and we were tasked with doing our own. Here is where my Cher and poetry blogs converge. I did a Sonny & Cher mesostic with song lyrics. Here's my post on Cher Scholar: I Found Some Blog about it: http://cherscholar.typepad.com/i_found_some_blog/2013/11/sonny-cher-mesostic.html.