Modern Poetry and Alternative Narratives

The Modern American Poetry Course (ModPo) presented by Prof. Al Filreis of Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania is a mind-altering experience. The benefits of such an excellent online course to people who function “normally” in the world, but who can’t afford high quality education is self-evident, but what is more meaningful is that Coursera has made it possible for people “paused” in life to flourish in a rich learning environment. For many people, those with chronic illnesses, with complex mental and physical difficulties, or those who are looking after seriously ill family members, leaving the house to go to university is just not an option, even if they can afford it. But the reality is that if an illness or disability makes it hard to function “normally,” then it is hard to earn a normal salary to pay for university.

What I’ve noticed now that we’re 9 weeks into a 10-week course is that so many of us who live alternative lives are flourishing in a demanding learning environment, often against all odds, and this while many “normal” people have abandoned the class. The ModPo class is life-changing and beyond value for those of us who live beside the main stream of life, but who are eager to apply ourselves in new ways.

This highlights the need for access to quality, but affordable online education for all. The ModPo course is free, as are all Coursera courses at the moment, but even if they charge a minimal amount in the future it would benefit the world at large. Like the 35 000 students enrolled in the ModPo course, the number of people worldwide who are interested in further education must be enormous, so it should be possible to adequately fund the continuation of the classes.

I must add that it would be a mistake to think that a poetry course could not benefit anyone looking to enhance their education. I only started writing in 2008, which makes me a newbie at poetry, so I’m in it for the poetry, and I still can’t get over the good fortune that made me stumble upon the ModPo course. The benefits of learning poetry from an extraordinary professor is obvious. What is not plain to see is how the course opens the mind and shifts entrenched beliefs not just about poetry but also about people and life in general. Prof. Al Filreis and his Teacher Assistants have created an online campus atmosphere where the normal things happen in the forums: people become friends, form groups, argue and exchange knowledge, and the support from the teachers and fellow students continues into the social networks like Facebook and Twitter. And YouTube is also roped in for live webcasts.

I am beyond grateful, and proud, to be part of this first ModPo group. Knowing Prof. Filreis, there are going to be many. The struggling world needs access to this kind of enrichment.

Here is the link for Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo):

Here is the link for Coursera:

Sara P. Dias (Nov 2012)