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).

Kelly Writers House at the University of Penns...

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

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.

English: Jackson Mac Low, photo taken by Glori...

English: Jackson Mac Low, photo taken by Gloria Graham during the video taping of Add-Verse, 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Still in week 9, we read a selection of Bernadette Mayer‘s writing experiments, which I have saved in a couple of places for experiments once I find some writing time again.

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.

NO-COMFORT ZONE Week ending November 4, 2012

This has been a good week. After so much worry about health, my symptoms seem to be giving me a break this week, for which I am very thankful. Still no appointment for tests, but I have turned a page, moved into an upbeat mode.

Ron Silliman in blogging workshop

Ron Silliman in blogging workshop (Photo credit: pesbo) Credit Pearl Pirie

And then there is MODPO!  This was week 8 out of 10. It was an assignment week, and the week we studied L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E. poets, including Ron Silliman, whom I met when he was in Ottawa back in March. Fascinating encyclopedic knowledge of poetry, American yes, but also Canadian. We looked at his Albany and BART poems, and had the pleasure of his participation on the discussion forums.

We studied several sections of Lyn Heijinian’s My Life, Bob Perelman‘s Chronic Meanings, and In a Restless World Like This Is, by Charles Bernstein,

English: American poet Charles Bernstein at Wr...

English: American poet Charles Bernstein at Writers’ and Literary Translators’ International Conference (Stockholm, June 30, 2008) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

who also participated in our forums. We then moved on to Emily Dickinson‘s My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun as a featured poem in the Susan Howe book, My Emily Dickinson. We heard a Poem Talk discussion of that one.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, for each poem and poet, there are audio recordings if available, often recorded Poem Talks, and a video discussion by Al Filreis and his TAs to close read or share their opinions (both, actually!) on the poems.

Coming this week we are taking a look at chance operations as a poetic constraint, and will then do the final assignment. It sounds interesting, and there is much speculation of exactly what we will be asked to do. That info comes to us at the stroke of midnight EST tonight. It will either relate to the mesostic form created by of John Cage, or Bernadette Mayer’s Experiment.  More about that next time!


Still hanging in with the ModPo course at the end of week six. This week we read and/or listened to work from The Beats. Allen Ginsberg (Howl Part 1), a series of Jack Kerouac writings , including Essentials of Spontaneous Prose and Belief & Technique for Modern Prose. We listened to Robert Creeley‘s I Know A Man (5 versions)

Robert Creeley by Elsa Dorfman. Portrait taken...

and to a discussion of it on Poem Talk.  Although we didn’t read Anne Waldman ‘s poem, Rogue State, we did watch it on YouTube. And we read Incident by Amiri Baraka.

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palu...

It is always interesting to watch the discussion videos with Al Filreis and his TAs, as they talk about their own interpretations. Sometimes, people on the forums agree with them, other times there are new interpretations. With more than thirty thousand students, there are a lot of different readings!

Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg

There was some controversy (still!) over the writings and performances of the Beats: their use of language, their seemingly unconnected lines and phrases. There were still people offended by Howl. And those who found Kerouac’s spontaneous riffs really quite difficult.

There was also some outside controversy when Minnesota announced a ban on courses being offered to Minnesota students from out-of-state. But that seems to have been resolved in favour of the courses being allowed. Thank goodness!

Next week, tomorrow actually, we begin Week seven, a look at the New York School.  I see poems by Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Ted Berrigan, Kenneth Koch and Bernadette Mayer on the syllabus. And the third of four assignments.

This has been a fantastic experience, and we are told that we will have access to the course site for a year afterward, and there is a lot of interest in forming a ModPo Alumni. I wonder what I will do with so much time on my hands, though, when the ten weeks is up?

No-Comfort Zone Week ending Oct. 14

For this week, of course, the challenge continued to be ModPo. We began with Ruth Lechlitner and Genevieve Taggart, and then proceeded to Harlem Renaissance poets Countee Cullen and Claude

Portrait of Countee Cullen in Central Park. Ju...

McKay. And Gwendolyn Brooks.

Next we went in a slightly different, rather Anti-modernist direction with Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. We watched a YouTube discussion about that with Bob Perelman, Rachel Blau Du Plessis, John Timpane and Taije Silverman, ably hosted by Professor Al Filreis.

I haven’t quite finished up Week 5 yet, as I still have two videos to watch. One is a discussion of Richard Wilbur‘s Cottage Street, 1953 and then X.J. Kennedy‘s ekphrastic poem on Duchamp’s painting by the same name, Nude Descending a Staircase.

Robert Frost, Dartmouth 1896.

Robert Frost, Dartmouth 1896. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the stone wall at Frost's farm in Derr...

This is the stone wall at Frost’s farm in Derry, New Hampshire, which he described in “Mending Wall.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I have done Wilbur’s The Death of a Toad, (1950).

Looking forward to the coming week as we begin to look at The Beats.

Also this week I am restarting the Complete Health Improvement Program, CHIP, originated by Dr. Hans Diehl. Need a refresher, and need to be more focused this time around.

Haven’t managed to keep up with The Southeast Review’s 30-day Regimen, but that will be waiting for me when I am done the ModPo course. Then it will be time to get back to my own writing!