Posts Tagged Coursera

Advice for New Poets



The question, perennial I think, is what advice is best for writers just starting out.  Since I consider myself an emerging writer, what follows is advice I follow myself.

Study modern poetry.  One great resource is Coursera’s Mod Po, which starts September 6.  It’s free and worth every minute you spend on it.

Get a book.  I’ve found The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux is one of the best.  There is material on what to write as well as the craft of writing it.

Join a group.  Most states have a poetry organization like the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFOP).   You’ll meet poets who live near you.  The organization will likely hold regional readings, sponsor workshops and conferences and other poetry related activities, and may be able to connect you with a critique group where you can get feedback from fellow writers.

Keep writing.  Remember, it’s the process not the outcome you need to focus on.  Here’s a recent blog post on the Lake Region Writers Network, that drives home that point very nicely.


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Mail Art

Back with insert

I took a class this summer called Introduction to Art:  Concepts and Techniques at Penn State University through Coursera, the free on-line university.  You could submit up to five art projects but you had to do two to get credit for a certificate of accomplishment.  It was a lot of fun.  The readings, videos about artists and the teacher’s demos were great.  Some of the projects were conceptual, which was a good stretch for me.  For instance, selecting an environmental setting to add to, enhancing whatever in the land spoke to you.  I chose a wonderful hole in a big old tree and filled it with shells because it reminded me of how much of the earth was under water at some point and shells appear everywhere as fossils.

The project I enjoyed the most was mail art.  That is the photo above, and here is my Artist Statement.

I Dream of Paris

My process involved taking apart an envelope and copying it on good paper, then collaging over it.  My theme is travel, specifically to Paris.  As a child in a cold, land-locked state, all I dreamed of was traveling to Europe.  I used French ephemera I have collected over the years.   I keep it all in a small suitcase.

The outside of the envelope is decorated with cartoons by Toulouse-Lautrec.  These were from an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Since I studied French, a long time ago, I wrote a few sentences on a page of a French language text and pasted it on top.  The inside flap of the envelope is decorated with a road map of the region around Paris and a weather map from a copy of a French newspaper.

The insert is a cancelled passport that I altered with additional ephemera, some from Italy, Hungary and other places I have traveled.  There are a few pictures of bicycles in the insert.  I rode my bike a lot when I was a kid, always thinking about going somewhere far away.

I would like the viewer to think about the fact that every journey starts with a dream and that dreams can become reality.

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Once Again

Wind Chime in Snow

Pines bow with weight

of snow

once again

I am nearly finished working my way through ModPo, the Coursera class taught by Al Filreis at the University of Pennsylvania.  I now understand the dashes in Emily Dickinson’s poems and see Rae Armantrout (b. 1947)as Emily’s descendant.   I recognize the restless modernism in William Carlos Williams and appreciate what an influence Gertrude Stein had on subsequent poets, especially John Asbery.

There is a long middle section of ModPo that takes into account anti-modernists who thought more traditional forms could better express their social justice concerns.  Then the post war years move from formalism to the explosion of The Beats.

I enjoyed reading Allen Ginsberg’s Howl so much that I also watched the film from 2011 with James Franco as Ginsberg.  The movie is taken completely from the poem, court transcripts and a taped interview with Ginsberg.  Animation fills some of the time when Ginsberg is reading and is not as successful as the courtroom reenactment or Franco acting out the interview or reading Howl.

Studying poets of the New York School taught me the difference between non-narrative and anti-narrative styles of poetry as well as the ambiguous use of pronouns and non-sequitur imagery.

Finally, Chapter 9, recent trends in three parts.  First, Language Poets, who eschewed sequential writing and wrote paratactic sentences, sentences which, when used together have little or no relationship.  The form fits the discontinuity and disruption that is their subject matter.  Language Poets are also among the most difficult to derive meaning from for me.

Then, the Chance poets who wrote according to a pre-defined procedure.  Here, we can see the divergence into Post-Modernism.  The previous “Moderns” wanted to “make it new.”  These post-modernists say there is nothing new, so you may as well use a procedure or just use the language that is all around you.

This leads, finally, to the Conceptual poets who reject creativity and expropriate language or use found language or borrow it and, ironically, some of this seems quite creative to me.

It’s been a fabulous learning experience and Coursera just announced that ModPo will be repeated in the fall of 2013, so if you want to sign up – it’s free, remember – just go to and look for Modern and Contemporary Poetry.

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