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Posts Tagged ‘Al Filreis

Coursera Learnings: The Close Reading

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Word by word, pay attention to the text

It’s actually what I did yesterday with my visceral response to the Dassault Systemes commercial from Casual Films which appears to have touched a nerve.

Not so long ago I wrote about the Modern Poetry class I’m attending with ~30,000 new friends. We’re watching Professor Al Filreis and a team of dedicated UPenn student TAs react to and discuss Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg and others. The class involves a fair amount of dissecting meanings and is lots of fun. And now we are grading each other’s close readings of a Dickinson text. The Coursera machinery for dealing with a massive online open course is startlingly easy to use and even (sort of) personal. Kudos to Professor Al Filreis and team!

For me this was to be a year off from grading college essays, but these essays are different. People from all over the globe are struggling to sort out what the assigned Dickinson poem means. Some—like me—have never worked this closely with poems. Many of us read our own meanings into the text—often this is linked with a lack of close attention to the words. Even word by word: the close reading demands the individual words add up to something. To gloss over the words is the thing that allows me to pack in my own meanings. I’ve noticed this tendency for years reading ancient texts with small groups: the farther we get from the words on the page, the easier it is to attach our pet peeves to the author’s supposed/assumed point. But the words themselves lead into or out of meaning and belief.

I was struck by one of our course readings: this poem by Cid Corman:

Cid Corman, “It isnt for want”

It isnt for want

of something to say–

something to tell you–


something you should know–

but to detain you–

keep you from going–


feeling myself here

as long as you are–

as long as you are.

Naturally, there is lots to say as you go word by dash by word. But one thing—from the perspective of conversation—Corman focused on how we know something about ourselves as we stand together in conversation.


Image Credit: Zoltron via thisisnthappiness

Written by kirkistan

September 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

Today I start a Coursera Modern Poetry Class. I have over 29600 classmates.

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It’s a big room.

I’ve always had a hard time with poetry. Except for Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, and William Carlos Williams and a few others, I mostly don’t get it. Over the years a few smart and patient friends have helped me glimpse what I’ve been missing. Those few glimpses have made me hungry for more.

So I signed up for a Coursera course. This one is taught by Al Filreis through the University of Pennsylvania. It’s free to take and so far, even the readings look like they are freely available on the web. The fact that nearly 30,000 people signed up for the ten-week course seems to have shocked everyone, including the instructors.

Why Poetry When There is So Much Real Work to be Done?

Poetry and copywriting are joined at the hip.

I see you rolling your eyes.

Listen: reducing a big idea to the shortest, most succinct nugget that cannot be ignored by a target audience is the heart of copywriting. Yes, it’s true we often waste that succinctifying power on soda and beer and lingerie and the Reliant K-car. But not always: sometimes we write to expose human trafficking and to raise money for refugee crises or to invite people to reconcile with God. All these uses—whether mundane or transcendent—use that succinctifying muscle. Longer-term readers of this blog might argue that whether mundane or transcendent, the work of serving with words is valuable. I agree.

Sharpening that succinctifying muscle is what interests me. I hope that will be one outcome from the course, as I see what poets have succeeded at encapsulating experience into words and phrases. Of course, I’m guessing there will be much, much more to it.


Image Credit: Dr. Seuss via thisisnthappiness

Written by kirkistan

September 10, 2012 at 5:00 am

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