Published in the June 2023 issue of Marsh Hawk Press Review — some of my speculations on what has been happening in our open, open-ended online course on poetry in the past decade. I attempt to describe an emergent learner-centered learning that is motivated by certain kinds of poems and situates itself in a third space.
After a few unremarkable responses from ChatGPT about Gertrude Stein in ModPo, there was this bland answer. Perhaps this AI program isn't yet picking up content from YouTube videos. The third paragraph here is just guessing, based on what it finds about Stein on the web generally, that ModPo focuses on literary history in the survey-course sort of way. Most interesting to me: the program did not analyze any sort of relationship between Stein and the open online course form—many people, many interpretations, open verse, etc. The AI here is "thinking" in an authoritarian (this is the answer) sort of way even about Stein when asked the "why" about online teaching. What it's missing is not a super-subtle point, I think, and such an idea is amply available across web content. In short: somewhat surprisingly, not meta- at all.
From 1994 until 1998 or so my poetry class used a text-only virtual university that we built called PennMOO. (It was, obviously, a variation of MOO.) I held open online office hours, we had class there on the day of a snowstorm, we hosted poetry slams, and we even built and used a skating rink. Someone studying MOOs contacted me about this and I found an old web page with links that mostly still work.
Norman Finkelstein has published an excellent review of Jake Marmer’s new book of poems, Cosmic Diaspora. Here’s an excerpt: “Marmer comes by his diasporism honestly, and not only because he is Jewish. ‘Born in the provincial steppes of Ukraine, in a city which was renamed four times in the past hundred years [it was Kirovograd while Marmer was growing up; it is now Kropyvnytskyi]’ (119), Marmer came to the United States at the age of fifteen. ‘Growing up on the outskirts of the universe,’ he tells us, ‘I sought out the language of the cosmos, its imagery and terminology’ (15). A devoted reader of Eastern European science fiction and ‘coveted translations of American sci-fi classics,’ Marmer put this youthful love aside when he became an immigrant — an ‘alien,’ a term to which he became rightfully sensitive.”
Norman Finkelstein has published an excellent review of Jake Marmer’s new book of poems, Cosmic Diaspora. Here’s a paragraph:
Marmer comes by his diasporism honestly, and not only because he is Jewish. “Born in the provincial steppes of Ukraine, in a city which was renamed four times in the past hundred years [it was Kirovograd while Marmer was growing up; it is now Kropyvnytskyi]” (119), Marmer came to the United States at the age of fifteen. “Growing up on the outskirts of the universe,” he tells us, “I sought out the language of the cosmos, its imagery and terminology” (15). A devoted reader of Eastern European science fiction and “coveted translations of American sci-fi classics,” Marmer put this youthful love aside when he became an immigrant — an “alien,” a term to which he became rightfully sensitive. His passion was “just too bound up with my old-country self, which I was trying to erase.” His rediscovery of the genre via “Samuel Delaney, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Sun Ra,” led to a renewed vision of “the deep future of the myth, spirit, language, otherness, desire, and the epic.”
Christie Williamson, a Shetlander poet who resides in Glasgow, has published a new book with LuathPress in Edinburgh. Its title is Doors tae Naewye. Many of the poems are accompanied (as notes) by English translations. Some are a mix of English and Shetlandic. One poem, “St. Catherine’s,” is in part a response to William Carlos Williams's “Nantucket.” My own copy of the book, sent to me as a gift by Williamson, includes little handwritten notes, in pencil, slipped into various pages. The perfect treasure hunt for the reader-critic-fan, which is what I am with respect to this verse. The note, reproduced above, reads: “Written on arrival on my first of many visits to my cousin's second home/holiday let in Scalloway — the house is called St. Catherine’s and I’d been contemplating William Carlos Williams's ‘Nantucket’ for Essay (two? three?)” The reference here to “Essay (two? three?)” is to ModPo, the open online course with which Christie Williamson has a long association. Participants were asked in a recent season of ModPo to write (in the second of four essays, in fact) about “Nantucket,” with its window-framed “optics” (Williamson’s word) “changed by white curtains” (Williams’s phrase).
Kyriakos Mavridis participated in ModPo (a free open noncredit online course on modern and contemporary American poetry), where among the Gertrude Stein readings we find a short prose poem called “Let Us Describe.” Its ending, an accident of descriptiveness gone thus awry, writes an automobile accident that seems to have occurred on wet rural French roads one stormy night.
The comix Kyriakos has created was published in a comic album called Windy Nights (along with four other comic adaptations of poems /texts — all in Greek). Here is the link.
The other four comics are of two texts by Kyriakos (Arrival and Close the window,written originally in Greek), one of Lorca’s (The Rider’s Song)and the last one of an untitled poem by Nazim Hikmet (title of the comic: Determined). Kyriakos has now added English versions of these comics at his website: Windy Nights
In a recent note, Kyriakos generously observed: “I am sending you this email because your lectures in ModPo (I was an online student back in 2013) inspired me my adaptation of Let Us Describe, which in turn inspired the rest of the works in this comic album. It was very important for me and I am really grateful to you.”
Here is a link to an edited/condensed version of our original thirty-three-minute ModPo video featuring a close reading of two poems from Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary. It has been added to the main syllabus of ModPo, the free, open, noncredit online course on modern and contemporary US poetry.
New ModPo video just posted — in which Anna Strong Safford and I talk with Yosuke Tanaka about a dark, wartime poem by Ayukawa Nobuo called “Man on a Bridge” (1942). Click the link (to view the video you must be logged into ModPo — registering is free and open to all):
Wai Chee Dimock, editor of PMLA, published her editor’s comment during fall 2017 on the “education populism” she discerned in several affiliated projects hosted at the Kelly Writers House — among them, PennSound, PoemTalk, ModPo, and the programs offered in the old house at 3805 Locust Walk itself. A PDF copy of the article is available HERE.
Today we are making available — through the ModPo site — a discussion, hosted by me, with Emily Harnette, Anna Strong Safford, and Amaris Cuchanski, of Elizabeth Willis's "Survey." It's one of the new poems in Willis's recent New & Selected Poems, titled Alive. This link