Doings, plans and a missed opportunity

Doings: 

Literary Leicester

Last week, I attended two back-to-back Literary Leicester festival events:

  • A ‘Poetry Recital’ by Douglas Dunn and Rory Waterman, each reading from their respective new collections, The Noise of a Fly (Faber & Faber) and Sarajevo Roses (Carcanet).  Dunn had travelled from his home in Scotland to read from his first collection to be published in seventeen years; his audience were not disappointed.  I confess to having read none of Dunn’s poetry previously, and have add this eminent poet to a growing list of those whose work I should seek out.  Waterman’s reading, equally engaging, convinced me that I will enjoy his new collection at least as much as I did Tonight the Summer’s Over (his first, also from Carcanet).
  • Sir Jonathan Bate on Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life.  A fascinating talk on the four years of research, the ups and downs and paths taken in writing this biography.  Another hour well-spent, to say the least.

Plans:

image

Four months into retirement (so-called, anything but) is far enough in to underline the fact that time does indeed fly.  Thus I’m ever mindful of that wish list I started making last year, once I knew that leaving the chalkface a year early was financially do-able.  As part of my ongoing poetry education, I’ve already completed one MOOC since July and have embarked upon another (juuust).  I plan to blog about these at some point (yes, ever the list-maker, I’ve started another one: Things to Blog About).

With an eye to the poetry New Year (and fulfilling one wish from The List), I’ve booked my ticket for the TS Eliot prize shortlist readings at the Southbank Centre on Sunday 14th January.  I’ve heard much about this annual event from other poets and bloggers over the past few years and I’m so looking forward to spicing up the inevitable post-Christmasness with a slice of the poetry high life.  Although we’ll have to wait until the following day for the result, I’ll be rooting for Jacqueline Saphra.  Who’s your hot favourite?

A missed opportunity:

ModPo in London: as a previous (and present) course participant, I had this early-September happening on my poetry radar, but the date neared, came and went whilst our house-move-in-waiting put most things on hold.  If any readers of this post attended either or both of the organised events, I’d love to hear all about it via the comment box below.

 

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Catching up on reading #2

In addition to printed material I’ve been reading, lately, the onset of the summer holidays (still wired for work but with no pressing reasons to be) seemed like the ideal time to continue my poetry education via MOOCs I started way back in January and abandoned part-way through as work life, etc took precedence.  So here’s what I’ve been up to, online:

Robert Burns: Poems, Songs and Legacy (Glasgow University via FutureLearn):

‘Pop Art Rabbie’ by Sheilagh Tennant

Format: a three-week course comprising videos, articles, texts/lyrics, memory quizzes(!) and forum discussions

My verdict: a comprehensive introduction to life and works of Scotland’s bard.  Does what it says on the tin but this one failed to engage me in the way that other MOOCs have done (videos were mini lectures rather than debate between academics or tutor-student workshops/tutorials and I felt ‘talked at’).

Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing (The University of Warwick via FutureLearn):

futurelearn.com

futurelearn.com

Format: a six-week course comprising video discussions, poem/novel/play texts, articles, surveys (for research purposes) and forum discussions.

My verdict:interesting discussions on the physiology and treatment of stress, heartbreak, bereavement, PTSD and trauma, depression and bipolar, ageing and dementia, and the benefits of reading/sharing literature for therapy and wellbeing.  What niggled me: Stephen Fry’s dismissive remark regarding ‘free form’ poetry during a week 1 video discussion (in fact, the wealth of contemporary poetry was largely ignored throughout the course).

Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death & Disaster (The University of Iowa via novoed.com):

iwp.uiowa.edu

iwp.uiowa.edu

I’m a late starter to this MOOC (week 3 of which starts tomorrow), but the beauty of this beast (as far as I’m aware) is it’s available year-round and one can begin at any time (provided you don’t wish to join in the discussions on the online forum – which I don’t).  I’m currently engaged in week 1: Circumstance & Documentary.  Each week there’s an introductory video (engaging discussion between academics; approx 40 mins) followed by a series of reading texts including study notes and afterwords, then a question for discussion via the forum.

I’ll let you know how this one goes but, in my experience of MOOCs to date, UK universities have much to learn from those in the USA.

Still on my MOOC To Do list is Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Anderson Centre via FutureLearn).

I’m also looking forward to a return visit to ModPo in September (I intend doing ModPoPlus, this time around).

Which MOOCs are you currently engaged in, have enjoyed to date or are looking forward to this coming autumn?  I’d love to hear your views and choices via the comments box below.

After ModPo: a few thoughts

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.

 

Massive Online Open Courses

Last week I blogged about some of the open workshops I’ve participated in at The Poetry School.  Indeed, there’s a wealth of free resources and courses available on t’internet.  Last year, I enrolled on the University of Iowa’s massive online open course (MOOC), How Writers Write Poetry.  (I’m genuinely curious about other poets’ writing processes and keen to try new ways into a poem).  It coincided with my return to work from sick leave, however, so I didn’t complete the course.  Having enjoyed the first two video tutorials and assignments, though, I’ve just re-enrolled.  Here are the details, cut and pasted from their latest email to my inbox:

Greetings from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program!

We are delighted to invite you to join our new MOOC, How Writers Write Poetry 2015! This seven-week online course, beginning on March 23, 2015, offers an interactive progression through the principles and practice of writing poetry. The course is open to everyone in the world, free of charge, and will be taught in English. We hope you will join us!

Course video ~
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOHgH2Y2lbE&feature=youtu.be

Registration ~
https://www.canvas.net/browse/canvasnet/uofiowa/courses/how-writers-write-poetry

Our instructors are Christopher Merrill, poet, University of Iowa Professor of English, and International Writing Program Director; and Camille Rankine, poet, Assistant Director of the MFA Program at Manhattanville College, and Editorial Director of The Manhattanville Review. No previous writing experience is necessary, only a stable internet connection. If you would like to take this course but do not have stable internet access, please contact us at distancelearning.iwp@gmail.com. Class will start on Monday, March 23, 2015.

And, who knows, in another (retirement) life, I may yet complete the University of Pennsylvania’s MOOC course: Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (AKA ModPo).  If you’re interested, this one starts on September 12th, but you can sign up now.

Whatever your interest or specialism, Coursera lists a host of MOOCs.  Go look!