The time has come, the ModPo student said, to pick and choose and avoid being totally lost.
Yes, as I had suspected, the reading load has gotten a little hard for me to squeeze in as the pace of my own school year gets hectic and the poems get more challenging and unfamiliar. Even though the ModPo poems and videos are usually on the shorter side (videos usually clock in anywhere from 10-15 minutes), I like to watch them when I know I won’t be distracted and I’m mentally alert, two factors that aren’t coming in tandem that often around here. So what to do? In order to stay apace in time for the next writing assignment, I decided to cherrypick which readings I most wanted to tackle and leave the rest by the wayside. Sorry, Cid Corman and Rae Armantrout–your time will come, but not today.
From Week Three, “imagism,” I chose to read and watch the videos for Sea Rose, by H.D. and Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” I’ve read a little of H.D.’s work before, and have always wanted to understand Pound better. I think I chose wisely, as both served well to introduce me to the next section of the course, the ideas of startling juxtaposition, of concrete images, of using language for new and exciting purposes.
From the second half of Week Three’s readings, focusing exclusively on William Carlos Williams, I first studied “This Is Just To Say” and The Red Wheelbarrow, two poems that are widely anthologized and most like to have students saying, “How does this count as poetry? I don’t get it.” The ModPo discussion videos, as always, were hugely illuminating for me; these videos, with Al Filreis and the graduate TAs of the course, are worth attempting the course for, even if you don’t dig deeper into the course at all. I had never thought of “This Is Just To Say” as a poem about marriage and sexual politics before, but it makes total sense to me now. Is that because the discussion video was so good, or because now, when encountering the poem, I come to it as a woman married to a man who would definitely eat my carefully saved breakfast plums if I forgot to leave a note? It was interesting to me too that many of the TAs seemed to receive “Red Wheelbarrow” fairly neutrally, but Professor Al managed to lead an invigorating discussion nonetheless.
After getting a fresh perspective on those two, I was then attracted to Williams’ Portrait of a Lady, paired with Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. I had referenced Staircase before when teaching a short unit on modernist fiction and art with eleventh graders and was excited to encounter it again as part of a poetry pairing. Thankfully, there are also videos for each, and choosing to study this poem and painting also dovetails with my long-standing interest in ekphrastic work.
This week’s challenge: to tackle as many readings as I can, not get totally flummoxed by Gertrude Stein, and complete the second writing assignment (which, as I predicted, has a stricter word limit and more detailed guidelines).
New long-term goal: to visit the Kelly Writers House someday, to experience the environment where the videos are filmed and maybe enjoy a reading or workshop.