Poetry Taken to Other Levels
After attending Washington, DC's Marine Corps Marathon to watch her New Jersey shore daughter-in-law finish in four hours and two minutes, the Dresser has a new appreciation of what marathon means to anyone who persists in any kind of endurance course. And especially after the news last night that the good Mayor Michael Bloomberg has bowed to the outrage of conducting the New York City Marathon when so many of his constituents are suffering after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
OF MARATHONS & MOOC MANIA
The word marathon derives from a Greek village and plain northeast of Athens where the Athenians were victorious over the Persians in 490 B.C. The village name--Marathon--took on new meaning when a messenger from Marathon ran more than 20 miles to Athens to deliver the news of the victory.
For the Dresser, and perhaps for many of her dear readers, the world has changed recently in ways that will not allow return to what was. Moreover the scale of change is enormous. For the Dresser, who has been running a marathon of poetry this fall by participating in MOOC mania--more on this mind-expanding 21st century be in shortly--the refuge for all this unsettling change is poetry. On the weekend leading to the supersized storm Sandy, the Dresser attended two exceptional poetry events--a by-invitation-only symposium on Gertrude Stein and a performing arts center poetry reading to a large general audience. Both events seem to be a barometer of our time, measuring pressure experienced from accumulated conditions not entirely understood.
In September 2012 as a beta test, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) through a company calling itself Coursera began offering Internet readership a without-tuition-cost opportunity to take University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis' ten-week Modern Poetry course. The Dresser signed up immediately last spring (the course will remain open for registration probably until the next offering begins in September 2013) but had no idea how groundbreaking this educational opportunity would be. She had no concept of attending a class with 35,000 classmates, some of whom make themselves known in the discussion forums of Filreis' ModPo, as the class has come to be known. She had no concept how one teacher could make a class of this size seem intimate.
The technology has been remarkably dependable, even during Hurricane Sandy for those who still had power to partake. Yes, Filreis has teaching assistants whom the ModPo devotees know by face, name, and literary preferences as each week the professor rolls out videos where he and his TA's push back their sleeves and do "deep reading" discussions of selected poems. On designated weeks, live web session take place where students from all over the world can call in, tweet, or write into the discussion forum set up for this ModPoLive session. Furthermore, students are invited to the University of Pennsylvania campus and the Kelly Writer's House to participate in the live session. The TA's are as agile as the professor in making the live sessions work. The student body defies expectations and is amazingly active whether late at night or early in the day. Time worldwide has not gotten in the way of students coming together to share this experience.
ON MEETING DJ SPOOKY & GERTRUDE STEIN AT YALE
On October 26, 2012, the Dresser attended "A Symposium on the Work of Gertrude Stein" organized by the Gertrude Stein Society with the collaboration and support of the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut. The informative program addressed the corrected edition of Stein's Stanzas in Meditation recently published by the Yale Beinecke, approaches for teaching Stein, and Stein's writings on war. The small gathering of about 60 people was a mix of academics (teachers and students) and independents (scholars and fans). In the world of Stein study, the range of subject matter was timely and perfect for engaging any participant of any current day proceedings on Gertrude Stein and her work.
Now, Dear Reader, step into this picture with the Dresser to get the full effect. At this high-tech library where live cameras watch researchers use original resource documents from such writers as Gertrude Stein and researchers are told to make copies of what they are looking at with their cellphones and do their documenting with their laptops--no pens allowed (If you must handwrite, bring loose sheets of paper and pencils), a low-tech symposium takes place. Most of the presenters choose to stand behind a podium and read their papers word by word. An occasional presenter managed to get a text-heavy slide projected and one of the educators talking about teaching Stein wowed the assembled--he was praised as a "rock star"--with a recording of DJ Spooky's remix of Stein's "Portrait of Picasso."
POETRY FOR THE PEOPLE
On October 28, 2012 (same day as the Marine Corps Marathon), the Dresser attended a poetry performance by former United States Poet Laureate (2004) Billy Collins and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Mary Oliver at the Music Center at Strathmore Marriott Concert Stage in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a full house (not every seat taken but certainly well attended) where the tickets sold for $45-$75. While the Dresser believes that some significant portion of the house was occupied by people who had been given the seats at no cost, the fact that people were there late in the afternoon while storm warnings were blaring from the media says something positive about the state the poetry.
Because the Dresser is unlikely to write about the Collins-Oliver reading again, she offers these details about this popular culture, poetry-the-for-people event. First, the Dresser will say quietly that most academics are not fans of Billy Collins and Mary Oliver. Second, the Dresser who always runs into other poets at poetry readings did not see anyone she knew and this is not to say there were no poets of note in the audience but more to say the audience was not the usual audience for poetry. Third, the person introducing this program asked the audience to "welcome these icons of the poetry world" as if they were not living, breathing, working writers.