MODPO TREASUREThere have been a lot of articles lately proclaiming that poetry is dead. So when someone sent me a link to this article, I had to open it. And there were Al Filreis, Ali Casselman and Anna Strong, doing the ModPo close read thing. Since I am a big fan of the course, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, to give it its full name, I thought I would share the piece here with you.

But it isn’t just about the poems. It is also about the people I’ve met and come to know (online at least) from places around the world. There are personal stories of cancer survival and a breakthrough by one student who is autistic.

And it’s about a professor who really cares about what he teaches and how. He cares about the students, every one of them, even when enrolment moves north of 30,000 per session. And he never sleeps.

Enough from me. Here is the link to the article. Please take a few moments to find out what ModPo is about.  It isn’t too late to enrol, either. I’ve included a link to the course page just below the one for the article.



AND THEN… There was ModPo 2/2013

Course Home Page

Photo from ModPo on Coursera

ModPo. ModPolians. ModPo People. What on earth am I on about??

Well, last year, there was Coursera, and a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC for short!) on Modern & Contemporary American Poetry. And it was free. 10 weeks. This was an area of my education that was a major gap, so I decided to check it out. I wanted to know more, much more, about American and about Contemporary poetry. And what Language poetry, Conceptual poetry and the NY School were about. Dickinson. Whitman. The Beats.

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palu... (Kerouac! Ginsberg! et al. ) And what of Gertrude Stein? Sure, I knew about a rose being a rose. Other names looked back at me from the prospectus: Frost. That guy who wrote about a Red Wheelbarrow. Ashbery. Armantrout. Silliman. Ok, heard of them. Bök (Hey! a Canadian!)  But Bergvall? O’Hara? Niedecker? Goldsmith? MacLow? Cage?  These and some others I hadn’t met before. Tzara? Dadaism? Mesostics? Really?

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan...

English: Participants at a Kelly Writers House...

English: Participants at a Kelly Writers House event honoring Gertrude Stein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So there I was. Fast forward 10 weeks and I was no longer interested in poetry. No, now I was obsessed! I had spent just about every waking moment on the computer. Talking to fellow students in the UK, Phillippines, Germany, India…all over the world. I posted about it here last November: https://quillfyre.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/no-comfort-zone-modpo-week-10-the-final-week/

Few of us were able to let it go after 10 weeks. Friendships and discussions continued. A number of us signed on for 2013 as Community Teaching Assistants. Our job? Help new students to ease into the course, find their way around, and share our own uncertainties from last year. Make them feel at home.

For those who were lucky enough to be in Philadelphia for the weekly live webcasts, there was the teaching staff and professor Al Filreis, at the Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania, and home of ModPo.

From the photos, it always looks quite warm and welcoming, the student faces always smiling. They’ve made the pilgrimage to ModPo!

Kelly Writers House at the University of Penns...

Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe next year…

ModPo 2 has been as interesting a journey as ModPo 1 was. Hoping to stick around for the next time too.

This won’t surprise those who’ve heard me go on and on!

One thing that ModPo always provides is a series of poem challenges in the study group I hang out with: The Breakfast Club. Or, as it is known this year, the BC, BC 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3!  We post about all manner of things poetic and not so poetic. A recurring theme this year has been bacon, in keeping with the idea of breakfast! So you will see some bacon references in the poems I am posting here as my journey journal for ModPo 2.

Towards a Breakfast of Excess With apologies to Scott Owens– by The Past Head Crone CAS a pastiche based on Towards a Poetics of Excess By Scott Owens, perhaps a gentle parody of the BC!

English: A pile of bacon

English: A pile of bacon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What the BC2 needs is more
bacon, longer
threads, posts that
tower  pitilessly over the merciless,
ideas that swell with babble & blab,
ideas that consider refuse
or politically correct nonsense,
waffles ripe with intentional falls
and ready to burst with maple flavour.

BCers who will watch anything
on the flick of a dial.
Why choose
when you can watch them all?

Suppose a BCer came to a cliff.
Suppose a waffle fell against vegemite.
Suppose the bacon ban pushed me to a pouting.
Suppose there were no ModPo forums.
Suppose I couldn’t discuss any more nonsense with you
and all I had to eat
were the poems I held in my only brain.

Who wouldn’t want a blab of the pave,
one that leaves you almost comatose,
tone-deaf and secreteing decibels,
grasping for straws, for bacon, for anything
to add another layer of nonsense, another layer of brilliance?

CAS Sept. 2013

I Effuse My Images in…Hot Places?! (a found in the forums poem)

I haven’t seen the video discussion yet
this poem as post-coital melancholy
Who killed the pork chops?
a Marxian question
What peaches and what
babies in the

English: A female African Bush Elephant raises...

English: A femaleAfrican Bush Elephant raises her trunk as a warning sign in MikumiNational Park, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

Who are Emily and Walt’s Literary Children?
Hands, the only part of her body she mentioned. Is that meaningful?
Geneticists discover: Whitman was right. We DO contain multitudes
Don’t Think of an Elephant


CAS Sept. 17 2013

A Screed in the Condensary

Distillation: a  condensation,
a process. Cognac from wine,
heated, cooled.
A liquid, never brewed,
now  different from its source.

Art: a similar process,
source and final versions related,
but different: a poem.

Mere screed.
No layoffs in this elaboratory…..

CAS riffing Ellen Dillon, during our Niedecker poems period
Sept. 2013

TOUGH COOKERY (The Steinery Concoctions) Oct. 4, 2013 CAS (Gertrude riffs)

Jiyuken Omelette Rice  A YELLOW OMELETTE.

If eggs are eggshell white if they absorb moisture and heat and even butter, if they sticky will slick a pan that has no heavy greasing, if they manage this and it is not morning it is not at all morning if they manage this they need a menu.


031/365 - Homemade Bacon

031/365 – Homemade Bacon (Photo credit: djwtwo)

All attention to constant spatters to a crackling, all attention to this creates out of it what is red in tasting and perhaps opaque in fat. The purpose of this is certain. Imagine a morning chosen and agreed, imagine it is also consensus, imagine no other meal will happen and no plates appear, imagine everything  else on the menu is burnt in a very large pan and might have turned into dry hard crisps, imagine all those things made a vegemite and imagine it was imagined, imagine the vegetarian way to a breakfast, if you imagine this at midnight and in a hushed tone, if you imagine this in spite of the required  event of an uncertain body of water and a ski slope in the distance, imagine this and an abundant buffet a groaning expanse of buffet is included certainly, it is not real and pleasant and tasting good. This which was so often a constraint was recurring.

Butter and a butter knife


Butter, what is butter, it is only lacking a knife.

The timing in that is that crumbs spoil a plate. The burning has begun. There is that smell. But perhaps we have, we have that scraping and that crust removal and quickly, neatly any is gone, mornings there is coffee and there will be a gooseberry preserve and ginger mostly ginger is that tart and tingling. For sure, toasting is fine-tuning and enticing.

There is no sense in empathy and in chemistry. There can be poached eggs in Mexican salsa. There is no recipe. There is no particular brand to use. It was used last week, that showed tomatoes and perhaps red peppers and onions. It lacked no taste and perhaps if substitutions are not necessary there is some sense in eating.

Bacon Strips Acquainted With The Eggs 

Bacon and eggs plate 4

Bacon and eggs plate 4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


(a pastiche based on a Frost poem, I Have Been Acquainted with the Night..a Breakfast Club offering)
By Carol A Chilly (num de ploom)

Two bacon strips reside between the eggs.
Beside fresh toast and jam—and bread and jam.
The cups held tea but only now the dregs.

I cooked the eggs with finest butter first
I set the time for seven on the dial
Then ground the meat to flavour liverwurst.

I set each place at table with blue plate
And white napkins of French chantilly lace
the silver service too; do not come late!

But not because I want you here on time
The breakfast will still be upon your plate
I cannot promise it will taste as fine

If everything is walking on two legs.
Two bacon strips reside between the eggs.

October 6, 2013
CAS riffing Frost

Howling at the Sun

(riffing my favourite, Allen Ginsberg)

The ashcans of America rise up and rant out of their dark alleys of broken glass,
beat and battered and brilliant through the stale beer of doom
floating out of the hydrogen afternoon in Brooklyn, lost conversation
on the windowsills threatening to jump screaming
and vomiting eyeballs disgorged from subways
endlessly ridden beneath neon blinking lights fueled by benzedrine
clattering past cemeteries where bodies locked in bone-grinding dance
of ashes wander at midnight in the cosmos of Idaho
amid visionaries in limousines of winter illumined by the streetlights
and washed in rural rain, spattered in jazz riffs, hopeless and incomprehensible in the light of morning
at the bottom of a river bloated with orange crates and gibberish, coughing out the skeletons drifting down towards New Jersey in the animal soup of alchemy in a metered timeless unknown, naked and bleached, the suns of a thousand Augusts.

Carol A. Stephen
October 15, 2013

Always Bees, Birds, Bloodworms, Blunt Hymns bigstock_Yellow_Jacket_8341897

Always bananas and alfalfa allay
bees, never engender bejewelled
biddy bidding, biding big birds
blobs block bloodroot, bloodworms bloom
blunt, blurt bluffs, brusk, but
cry gypsy hymns, myths ply shy wry rhythms spryly

CAS Oct. 30, 2013
a Eunoiac style poem after Christian Bök


dense full so many images assault on senses once twice a third and more so Silliman so Hejinian so Guest so Ruthrig too I need time and space to absorb comprehend and be amazed and bemused or is that beMused one starry sky upon another a galaxy of bright points light in its extreme brilliance and play of colour on colour on odour on taste and I try to fill each line to the margins and it goes so wrong over and over perhaps done by Monday or Tuesday some year

Carol A. Stephen
November 7, 2013

As it was last year, there is sadness that it is over, and now we look forward to going deeper into other poems until the next time!

Howling at the Sun

Challenge was to write a Beat poem, and how appropriate, since this week we are studying the Beats on ModPo (Modern & Contemporary American Poetry via UPenn on Coursera.org) with Professor Al Filreis and friends.

Something about Ginsberg‘s ashcans struck a chord, and this riff on Ginsberg was the result. Certainly not a long rant by any means, and I did a combination of found poem and original phrasing.

Howling at the Sun

The ashcans of America rise up and rant out of their dark alleys of broken glass,
beat and battered and brilliant through the stale beer of doom
floating out of the hydrogen afternoon in Brooklyn, lost conversation
on the windowsills threatening to jump screaming
and vomiting eyeballs disgorged from subways
endlessly ridden beneath neon blinking lights fueled by benzedrine
clattering past cemeteries where bodies locked in bone-grinding dance
of ashes wander at midnight in the cosmos of Idaho
amid visionaries in limousines of winter illumined by the streetlights
and washed in rural rain, spattered in jazz riffs, hopeless and incomprehensible in the light of morning
at the bottom of a river bloated with orange crates and gibberish, coughing out the skeletons drifting down towards New Jersey in the animal soup of alchemy in a metered timeless unknown, naked and bleached, the suns of a thousand Augusts.

Carol A. Stephen
October 15, 2013


In Week 10, the final week of ModPo, we met Kenneth Goldsmith, Christian Bök, Erica Baum, Caroline Bergvall, Michael Magee, Rosemarie Waldrop, Jennifer Scappettone and Tracie Morris.

Kenneth Goldsmith

Kenneth Goldsmith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We started off with Goldsmith’s Soliloquy, a book transcribed from Goldsmith’s recordings of  himself for a one-week period. This includes only his side of conversations, and nothing has been edited out.  Goldsmith has also released a book that transcribes one entire day from the New York Times. It is 900 pages long. Goldsmith teaches a course about uncreative writing, where students are penalized for showing originality. Their work must be taken from other writers’ work, patchworked, cut-and-pasted, and thus repurposed. He has written that there is enough writing in the world already, that we should, in effect, re-use and recycle. But to make sure I am not misquoting, you can read for yourself here: http://chronicle.com/article/Uncreative-Writing/128908/

We then moved on to Canadian poet, Christian Bök‘s Eunoia, Chapter E. Eunoia is the shortest English word that contains all five main vowel graphemes, apparently. Bök‘s constraint was to write each chapter using one, and only one of the vowels in the chapter. This took him seven years to complete, and won the 2002 Griffin Prize for Poetry. A number of students made efforts to come up with poems, stanzas or phrases that used this constraint. In one student’s final essay, she did a remarkable job of using exactly this constraint.  Bök also created languages for both Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon.

Erica Baum is a poet and photographer who has combined both in the visual poems we studied: Card Catalogues and Dog Ear. Interesting to note that some students tended to read the words or phrases from the card catalogue differently than the way they were put together by the teaching staff. I started from the front and worked backwards, while the video discussion started on the left hand side, which meant working from the back of the file to the front. While I don’t plan to become a visual poet myself, I can certainly see how this might work as a blogger about poetry.

We then moved on to Caroline Bergvall’s VIA. Her concept was to take the first stanza from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and then she looked for all the different translations she could find in the library. (Here is an article about working with translations.)  She then stacked them in alphabetical order by the first line. She reads it here in a even tone, each stanza, then the translator’s name, then the year of publication. It is interesting to note the slight nuances of meaning as the translators interpret the original Italian.

After that, we looked at Michael Magee’s Pledge, stanza after stanza of riffs on the American Pledge of Allegiance. At first, I didn’t realize just from the title what it was, but finally clued in on how it might sound read aloud. This was a series of  homophonic translations of the Pledge. I found myself checking for the original words, as there were some differences from the Canadian pledge I remember from school, and which, apparently, no longer exists. At least, no pledge to the flag exists.

Then we studied Magee’s My Angie Dickinson. This takes Emily Dickinson poems, using Emily’s dashes and style. It is a disruptive parody that weaves in flarf (Google search results)  from various TV and movie roles that actress Angie Dickson played, and also honours Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson.

Cover of "My Emily Dickinson"

Cover of My Emily Dickinson

Rosemarie Waldrop’s concept for Shorter American Memory of the Declaration of Independence used the technique of collage, drawing from Henry Beston’s American Memory from the 1930’s which she then applied the N+7 constraint of taking every noun, and replacing it with the one that falls seven nouns after it in the dictionary.

Jennifer Scappettones Vase Poppies is a hark-back to H.D.’s Sea Poppies imagist poem, using the sound, rhyme, number of words per line and number of lines per stanza from H.D.s poem. Scappettone used rhyme as she called it, “schmaltzification”. During the video discussion the comparison was made that Cage’s Writing Through Howl  poem was to Ginsberg’s Howl what Scappettone’s Vase Poppies  is to H.D.’s poem.

The final poet on the final week was Tracie Morris, whose poem, Afrika (video of it is the third poem on the Pennsound page), is a spoken word/music poem which is very much influenced by the nuances of the individual sounds, repetitions and disruptive flow of words stopping, starting, restarting. There is also a version that is a collaboration, adding music to the composition.

The poem never really seems to get going, stuck as it is in its repetitions. It is a poem about slavery, the arrival in America, the history of America. And even in its disruption, still provides a coherent narrative if you consider the back story and how the inflections, tone, the words relate to that history.

The final video discussion for Week 10 examined the Morris poem, and then moved on to talk about how the course of study has brought us through the lineage of modern poetry to Morris, the reflection of Stein and Dickinson here, of Cage. Final words came from each of the TAs. Here are my impressions of what I took away from their comments:

Max: “Will we, over this century, come back to the “what”.

Molly: worries about experimentation for the sake of experimentation.

Kristin: sees the lineage of modern poetry, sees Stein, sees Dickinson in “it” and “this”.

Al: hears Cage breaking the language down.

Anna: is reminded that language is a living breathing organism. Making it new = remaking it new= making it newer.

Ali: finds it easy to marvel at Tracie’s voice, her presentation. Gets pleasure from engaging with it.

Dave: likes how the poem lets you know the delivery of the poem IS the poem. You miss most of the message if you concentrate on content.

Amaris: history embedded in each word. Language is a living thing, renewed consciousness.

Trend in poetry moving from the authority voice to learning voice.

AL: Model a collective, collaborative close reading. The crowd is wise. The crowd has more to say than one expert.

Goal metapedagogically: to model a kind of collective reading of the poems that gets better the more we say on it.

Emily: renewed consciousness. Likes Afrika and Via of this section, which are also some of her favourites from the whole course. Experimentation augments the content, confrontational but not dogmatic, polemic or proselytizing. Asking a deeply important question, how we share our life experience, formal way of asking a question.

The following Monday there was a live webcast of goodbyes from the teaching staff, from the ModPolians who travelled to Philadelphia for the dinner the night before and went to the Kelly Writers House to attend the final webcast, and from those who called in from around the globe. And those of us who shouted our farewells from the sidebar chat on YouTube as well as from the discussion forums.

Is it over? No. The site is available for a year for us to review and to catch the discussions and further readings that we didn’t manage to squeeze in, or to revisit the ones we did. There are new discussion forums set up for us to discuss new material, and a couple of FB groups. There is a new blog for alumni to join, which we hope will continue after the official site has been closed down. There is a committee working to put together an anthology of poems from the ModPolian students who are also poets, and perhaps essays from those who are not poets. One student has set up his own blog to include a blogroll of ModPolians. Did I say we had a good course? Must be so, because no-one wants to see it end!

P.S. I should have commented further about the final webcast. This is the only course I have ever taken where not only were the students teary-eyed over saying goodbye, but so were the teaching staff, including the professor, Al Filreis! That really says it all, doesn’t it?