Sunday, November 4, 2012

Modern Poetry at UPenn via Coursera

The holidays end today, and S is off to school tomorrow. I, on the other hand, will be on residency this semester, reviewing for a foreign language exam that I need to pass before I'm allowed to work on my thesis full time.

A few years ago, at a particularly bloody writing workshop, the facilitator asked me,  "Why are you still writing this way?"

"What way?"

And when he didn't answer, I asked him, "Why, what do you think I should be reading?"

He said, "I don't want to say--I want you to discover poetry the way I did."

The trouble is: Without him (or anyone else) telling me what I ought to be looking for--or why--how was I to discover poetry "like [he] did"? He had then just returned from graduate studies elsewhere. He knew the history of Western (maybe American) poetry--certainly more than I did (we don't take that up where I come from, unless, of course, you are majoring in English or American literature). I didn't know the conversation he was, evidently, already part of, and he was criticizing my inability to speak, to think, the way he could. ("What you need," he suggested, "is a re-vision.")  But there was no way I could unless someone helped me understand why he--and the people he was talking with--where speaking the way they did.  Their conversation mattered/matters to me because I felt/feel intuitively, that such speech/writing is an important mode of the time I live in. Which is not to mean that this is the only kind of writing/speaking/thinking that matters today. Nor that I (my "subject position") think/speak/write (or will do any of the three) this way now, later, or (if it occasionally does) for all time. 

Since then, I'd been lurking around the interwebs, reading content, and joining real time "classes". Three years later, I feel a bit more versed in this "language", a bit more able to understand why certain people write the way they do. 

I've been taking a modern poetry course being taught by Al Filreis (who co-edits Jacket2) with a team of TAs at the University of Pennsylvania. I'm attending these classes virtually, via, for free, with some 30,000 other students around the world. Al Filreis' Modern Poetry course online helps fast track what I probably could have figured out on my own after a decade or so of mucking around (in the midst of holding down a job, caring for a child, and sustaining a home).

To say that I am really pleased with the course is  a gross understatement. Enrolling in it is one of the best things I've done. It persuades me that pedagogy is changing--or ought to.

The truth of the matter is that the course has made me regret a little my younger self's refusal to study overseas (for political and personal reasons). I understand now that there are things I was looking for that I could not (have not) found where I am, but which exist (and I knew them to exist) elsewhere. On the other hand, technology today allows me to share in these knowledges elsewhere, and share what I know to other similarly interested individuals. There is now so much more opportunity for people to learn from others around the world. I can speak to you, and you can speak to me, without my needing to circumnavigate the globe to obtain the knowledge you have.

ModPo's fun too, because I get to recognize what my favorite writers are doing--whose work they are probably studying. For example, I realize now that a person I know is working in the direction of Ron Silliman and Lyn Hejinian. A question I've always asked myself with regard to such kinds of work is: When one places a sentence paratactically with/among others, what order is used to allow the sentences to generate the field of (possible) meaning generated by the "finished" (if it could ever be called that) text?  I realize now, after thinking about this for quite some time, that the answer might very well be music. Sentences that have no causal relationship with each other are paratactically arranged depending on the sonic effect one might have on the ones preceding and succeeding it. [Editions of You, this paragraph's for you.]

Dear reader, you probably don't understand how this last epiphany is a kind of breakthrough for me. Thank you, ModPo, Al Filreis, and Coursera, for helping me learn the language of your discourse, and think my way through it. All without breaking the bank and ruining my child's future.

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