30,000 students but no-one has to share a desk!

My main news is that, along with 30,000 other people world-wide, I’ve signed up for, and am into my second week of, the free, on-line, ten-week taster course in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, or ModPo, offered by the University of Pennsylvania using the Coursera on-line platform and featuring the charismatic and hugely knowledgeable Professor of Literature, Al Filreis.

The course is delivered entirely on-line and students work their way through the links to texts and recorded seminars.  There are no “lectures”; I’m learning about the poetry by reading the texts then watching a video of Professor Filreis leading a close reading of the poem with a group of students.  Last week I read several poems by Emily Dickinson and sections of Song of Myself by Walt Whitman.  This week it’s the work of William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Lorine Niedecker, Cid Corman and Rae Armantrout.  The last three poets I confess to never having heard of.

As well as the texts, audio recordings (where available) of the poets reading their work and the video’d close readings, there are also several forums to participate in, or to simply read, online quizzes and four written assignments, to be peer-assessed, are submitted over the ten week course.

This week my workload has meant that I’m a little behind with my readings and note-taking and I’m not sure I’m going to make the deadline for the first writing assignment.  It could be that I will only study the poetry without completing the writing assignments.  I’m aware that this is letting others down since I won’t be available to peer-assess others’ work if I don’t submit my own assignments.  However my motivation for joining the course is to learn more about poetry generally and, specifically to know more about American poetry and its influences.  I feel that I’ll be able to do this without any peer-assessment of my analysis.  But I will send in my assignment if I can!

The quality of the close-readings, it probably goes without saying, is superb.  I’m so enjoying the lively, varied, sometimes amusing and always thought-provoking discussions of the poets’ work.  Al Filreis is a joy to behold; passionate about his subject, knowledgeable, interesting, engaging – everything a student could wish for in a teacher.  The choice of poets seems diverse  and there are many references to the ways the poets have influenced each other along the way.  The students involved with the close readings are smart and well-read and it really is delightful to watch the interaction between them all and participate through my own thoughts, if not in person.

I found out about the course because of a tweet by the poet and teacher, Abegail Morley, and I’m indebted to her for alerting me to this fantastic opportunity.

8 thoughts on “30,000 students but no-one has to share a desk!”

    1. Hi John, I was having trouble posting the link for some reason. If you look up Coursera and Modern and Contemporary American Poetry you might be able to still enrol. I will post again and thanks for your interest.


  1. Isn’t it a great course? I agree with you that the quality of the video close readings is really fantastic, and a large part of what makes the course so valuable to me. I finished my first assignment, but am dreadfully behind on the readings–see you around the forums sometime!


  2. Thanks so much for posting this. I will look out for another ModPo and have signed up for the 10 women at Stanford. Very exciting and perfect for those of who write but are not necessarily soaked in the literature history of poetry and who – like me- live in remote, rural location that does not have events or workshops easily available.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] I signed up for this course when it was first offered in 2012 and I thoroughly loved taking part.  Students read a wide range of poems which are all provided online.  The filmed seminars, with Al Filreis and a team of teaching assistants discussing the work being studied that week, are fascinating and engaging.  There are very lively forums to take part in, if you want to, and assessments are peer-reviewed.  I wrote a few blog posts about my experience of learning online which I posted at my blog.  Here’s the first one I wrote about taking the course  30,000 STUDENTS BUT NO-ONE HAS TO SHARE A DESK! […]


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