I’ve blogged about MOOCs and ModPo (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry) on more than one occasion. After two previous attempts, I’ve just completed ModPo 2015’s 10-week course: I read the poem texts, watched and made notes on podcasts and videos of poem discussions. I decided not to write any of the four assigned essays. Neither did I offer comments on discussion forums. There just aren’t enough work-free days in my week to fulfill those commitments.
Why did I ‘do’ ModPo? Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I do have ‘staying power.’ Maybe I wanted to devote even more time to reading, for a while. The more I read, the more I’m aware how poorly read I am – woefully so, in terms of American poetry.
Anyway, before I consign another A4 spiral-bound notebook to the nether regions of my study, I’m allowing myself time for reflecting on what I’ve learned. Said notebook is rammed with cut-and-pasted-in poem printouts, annotations and contextual notes. The wretched thing won’t shut. As I type, it’s on the dining room table beside my laptop – mouth half-open. It’s got so much it wants to say but that’d make for a very long blog post.
I’ve spent the past ten weeks reading/listening to the modern and contemporary American poetry that constitutes the ModPo syllabus – meeting almost all of the poems and poets for the first time. Many of them are what you (read ‘I’) might call ‘difficult’ poems. I would certainly have moved swiftly on, had I encountered them during solitary web browsing. I might not have persevered as far as a second, never mind a close reading.
ModPo has been a ten-week act of interrogating the language of each poem: its sounds (including sonic translations of the work of others), the writer’s creativity – or deliberate uncreativity(?!), choice of form or constraint (or lack thereof) and whether form reflects content. And what of the writer’s choice of words? What happens when Gertrude Stein frees a subject/object from its imposed name? What happens when language is freed from the conventions of syntax?
That notebook is making me ponder how much I might have missed/passed over in my poetry reading to date.
Some commonalities amongst the ModPo poets:
Each poet interrogated language – its sounds/words/syntax/structure – to extract or communicate new meaning or truth.
Each poet radicalised the conventional use of language and ‘made it new.’
Their poetry requires the reader – or listener – to work harder in search of meaning which lies in ‘how’ rather than ‘what’ is written.
To paraphrase a closing comment from one of the ModPo TAs: How can we, as writers, interrogate language to represent our own narratives and confront our shared experience?
Charles Bernstein said that the point of literature is not to give answers but to ask questions.
If poetry is about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what,’ then am I looking – or listening – hard enough?
ModPo course materials are available for use until Sept 2016. Today is the last day for registration if you’re interested. There’s no fee. Here’s the link.