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Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

Review by Therese Pope. Therese is a professional copywriter based in Northern California and also a lover of poetry. She is currently writing a poetry anthology and a poetry collaboration with another ModPo student.

Took the course? Write your own review here. Read all reviews.


The ModPo staff is fantastic – from the tech crew to the staff/TAs who make the ModPo magic happen. 

“I dwell in possibility,” a powerful line found in one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, perfectly sums up my experience with Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. ModPo, as students affectionately call the class, is taught by Al Filreis. Al is the director of the Kelly Writers House and professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. Al is also a published writer and teacher. He received the Lindback Award and the Meyer Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching and was chosen as the Pennsylvania Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. His books focus on modern poetry and he’s written extensively on poetry.

By Bruce Andersen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Al is assisted by Julia Bloch, associate director of the Kelly Writers House, and is an accomplished poet and writer and oversees the creative writing, digital and educational outreach programs. The ModPo staff is fantastic – from the tech crew to the staff/TAs who make the ModPo magic happen. They are very helpful and make the learning experience positive and fun.

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry with Al Filreis

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry with Al Filreis

TACKLING POETRY AS AN ADULT STUDENT & PROFESSIONAL WRITER

As a professional copywriter my relationship with language had grown stale and lackluster 

I originally signed up for the course in 2012 because as a professional copywriter my relationship with language had grown stale and lackluster. I couldn’t get the creative juices flowing and I felt disconnected from the English language. Words are my life as a professional writer. I received my BA degree in journalism in the 90s and my minor in college was American Studies and took early American Lit classes. However, my exposure to American Poetry was limited, other than my obsession with the Beats, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. I also wrote poetry in my 20s but quickly became discouraged and stopped my creative writing altogether. By taking ModPo, I hoped to kick start my creative juices so I would feel inspired to write poetry again.

As an adult student at 40-years-old, the class caught my eye because I longed to return to my literature roots. I craved an English class that focused on language and thought a poetry class would be fun and just what I needed. It had been years since I graduated from college so I was nervous about taking a collegiate-level class. As soon as I signed up for the class, I had second thoughts and felt intimidated. I thought I must be crazy to take a poetry class and felt out of my league. I had no idea what to expect other than I knew that the Beats were included in the syllabus. I was pleasantly surprised and was forced out of my literary comfort zone.

The first week of class kicks off with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and tackles poetry movements throughout the years. 

The first week of class kicks off with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and tackles poetry movements throughout the years. Students get a taste – and then some – of Modern & Contemporary American poetry ranging from William Carlos Williams to Gertrude Stein. The syllabus also includes the Harlem Renaissance, New York School and Language poets. The syllabus concludes with experimental/contemporary poetry. Al does an excellent job of including a diverse range poetry that succinctly reflects each Modern American poetry movement.

Personally, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around Emily Dickinson. While other students raved about Dickinson, I camped out in the Walt Whitman and contemporary poetry camp. While I am still not a big fan of Dickinson’s poetry, ModPo broke through my own resistance to what poetry should or shouldn’t be. Even though I may not like every poet or poem I read in ModPo, I have a new respect and appreciation for poetry that I never thought twice about over the years. I don’t close my brain off to poetry that doesn’t look appealing at first sight. I’ve learned to “close read” poems and look at poems from every angle. Sometimes that angle isn’t always comfortable, but I love the challenge behind dissecting and analyzing the language, form, style and tone of a poem.

WHY MODPRO LURES ME BACK EVERY YEAR

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Once you sign up for ModPo, you are a ModPo’er for life. I have enrolled in the class every year since 2012, and in November I completed my fourth year as an online community teaching assistant (CTA) for the course.

ModPo is more than just a class 

Al Filreis truly inspires his global students, and ModPo is more than just a class. Al and his TAs show students how to approach poetry with an open mind and heart. Al makes students feel comfortable and welcomes ALL students, no matter the language or cultural barrier, to jump into the discussion forums and share their thoughts and ask questions about the poems. Between Al, online community teaching assistants (CTAs), and class staff/TAs, there is always someone available 24, 7 to answer a question or lend a helping “virtual” hand in the forum discussions. ModPo also has a very active social media presence. There are thousands of students in the Facebook group and Twitter is always buzzing with our hashtag #modpolive discussions (especially during live webcasts). The class also has a call-in phone number for the weekly live webcasts and a voice mail number for students so they can leave a message 24, 7 and ask questions.

COURSE STRUCTURE

ModPo is a 10-week course that is offered by Coursera.org. The class begins in early September and ends in late November. I encourage students to take the class at your own pace. There are weekly poems to read and videos to watch.  In order to earn a Coursera certificate, students need to take and pass the weekly quizzes (which aren’t difficult), write essays (which are fun and students aren’t graded on grammar, writing style, etc.) and participate in the weekly poetry discussions on the online class forum. ModPo’s peer review process is very supportive and positively constructive, unlike other MOOCs I’ve experienced.

ModPo’s peer review process is very supportive and positively constructive, unlike other MOOCs I’ve experienced. 

There are no prerequisites for ModPo and everyone is encouraged to sign up – even those who haven’t taken a college-level poetry or English class before. Participating students range from 10-year-old homeschooled students to 80-year-old seniors from Greece. 50 percent of the students live outside of the United States. There are over 30,000 plus students enrolled in the class and thousands participate in the lively forum discussions.

Participating students range from 10-year-old homeschooled students to 80-year-old seniors from Greece 

During my first year, I found myself spending 10 plus hours on the class, but the nice thing about ModPo is that the forum discussions are open year-round. If you miss a week, you can always go back after the class is completed and read the poems at your leisure. The syllabus also includes a ModPo Plus section—additional poetry that corresponds with the weekly chapters. However, ModPo Plus isn’t a requirement but gives students more poetry to sink their teeth into as they progress through the course.

WHY MODPO IS NOT A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL COURSE

Compared to other “brick and mortar” English classes I took in the past, there are no wrong or right answers in ModPo.  He encourages free-flowing discussion and welcomes all students with open arms. Al is actively involved with the discussions and answers questions on the forums and Facebook group.  He even holds his own virtual office hours (as well as class TAs) via the forum.

Al is actively involved with the discussions and answers questions on the forums and Facebook group. 

He cordially invites visiting students to stop by the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia and participate in a live webcast at the Kellys Writer House at the UPenn campus. This is what really sets ModPo apart from other MOOCs. ModPo doesn’t feel like a class but feels more like an interactive symposium. ModPo is reminiscent of the old “salons” where people from all backgrounds, ages, and life experiences gather around a virtual communal table to discuss poetry. There are weekly live webcasts and students are encouraged to call into the webcast to ask questions, or post questions via the forum.

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Al and the TAs don’t “lecture” in the weekly videos.  

Al and the TAs don’t “lecture” in the weekly videos. The roundtable, discussion-style videos are relaxed, engaging, and fun to watch. Al and his TAs sit around a table at the Kelly Writers House (where ModPo videos are filmed) “close reading” and discussing the weekly poems. From the moment you watch the first video, you feel like you are seated at the table with them. Al is one of the most engaging, inspiring English professors I’ve ever had and I had really great English professors and high school teachers over the years. It’s very obvious that poetry is part of his soul and he’s very passionate about teaching. His love of poetry is contagious and he truly cares about his students.

ModPo is all about personal interaction and friendly feedback and discussion 

ModPo is all about personal interaction and friendly feedback and discussion. Students are very supportive of each other and there isn’t the usual annoying trolling that I’ve encountered in other MOOCs. I’ve taken my share of online classes and I have dropped out classes due to the lack of professor participation and the unmonitored, negative student discussions. With other MOOCs, I felt like I could get the same exact lecture from YouTube.

Higher educators only have to look at Al Filreis and ModPo to see that education has progressed far beyond the brick and mortar classroom. 

MOOCs have received negative backlash from higher educators and many criticize that online classes miss the mark with “personal attention” to their students. However, higher educators only have to look at Al Filreis and ModPo to see that education has progressed far beyond the brick and mortar classroom. ModPo proves that virtual and classroom learning are symbiotic and can produce successful results. There’s a reason that students return year-after-year, including me.  ModPo creates a worldwide global poetry community where everyone is welcome. In today’s world that’s turbulent and uncertain, ModPo gives me promising hope that people of all backgrounds, cultures, and languages can come together to create a supportive, peaceful community that supports and lifts people’s spirits.

If you are curious about taking a poetry class, I highly encourage you to sign up for ModPo. Dip your toe into the poetic waters – you won’t be disappointed!

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