On Monday, November 19th, we had our last live webcast with the professor, Al Filreis, and his TAs and many of the ModPolians (a name someone came up with for students of the Modern & Contemporary American Poetry Coursera course I’ve been living in for the last 10 weeks).
I had never imagined anything like this course turned out to be. I spent most hours of every day watching videos, listening to poets, discussing with fellow students as well as the teaching staff, and in the latter part of the course, even some of the poets dropped by to discuss reactions to and questions about their poems. The last couple of weeks were quite challenging, especially trying to keep up with all aspects of the course. I wanted to be finished on time, and still didn’t quite manage. Yesterday I watched the last video. But I still have some of the posts to read and further readings and extra videos outside the main syllabus. And there are new discussions still going on, as the site remains open for the next year. I was planning to do both Weeks 9 and 10 summaries in one post, but as I ended the Week 9 poets realized it would be a very long post, so herewith Week 9 on its own.
In week 9, we studied John Cage‘s mesostic form, which takes a name or a title to form a spine in the centre of the lines, draws the rest of the words from a source text, then that is run through an algorithm to produce a poem similar in ways to an acrostic. We reviewed a mesostic he wrote (Writing Through Howl) using Howl as his source text, an article by Marjorie Perloff about that Cage poem, and a selection of his adagia. We also heard him speak about his quest to make English less understandable. Some of us also listened to his composition 4’33” which is unusual to say the least.
Next we studied Jackson Mac Low‘s Vocabulary for Peter Innisfree Moore, which is a performance piece of words all drawn from the letters of Moore’s name. The instructions for this piece are extremely complex. I think you can hear the complexity when you listen to the recording. We listened to Mac Low’s reading of Stein’s A Carafe That is a Blind Glass and to his commentary on Stein’s Tender Buttons, as well as his reading of poem #100 in his Stein series, “A Feather Likeness of the Justice Chair”.
We listened to Jena Osman‘s poem, Dropping Leaflets, which was produced by printing out political press conference releases, cutting them up, and standing on a chair to drop the pieces like dropping leaflets from the sky. The leaflets, she says, told her what to do to create the poem.
We listened to and read Joan Retallack‘s “Not a Cage” poem. Her technique in putting this one together was something I’d like to try too. She was downsizing her library (something I desperately need to do too) and had a pile of books she’d not read, but was ready to part with. She took the first lines and last lines, sentences or phrases from each book, then whittled down the list and made a poem from them. She didn’t change words or orders of words within her selections, but she did decide how much of the line or phrase she would use.