conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Coursera Learnings: The Close Reading

with one comment

Word by word, pay attention to the text

It’s actually what I did yesterday with my visceral response to the Dassault Systemes commercial from Casual Films which appears to have touched a nerve.

Not so long ago I wrote about the Modern Poetry class I’m attending with ~30,000 new friends. We’re watching Professor Al Filreis and a team of dedicated UPenn student TAs react to and discuss Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg and others. The class involves a fair amount of dissecting meanings and is lots of fun. And now we are grading each other’s close readings of a Dickinson text. The Coursera machinery for dealing with a massive online open course is startlingly easy to use and even (sort of) personal. Kudos to Professor Al Filreis and team!

For me this was to be a year off from grading college essays, but these essays are different. People from all over the globe are struggling to sort out what the assigned Dickinson poem means. Some—like me—have never worked this closely with poems. Many of us read our own meanings into the text—often this is linked with a lack of close attention to the words. Even word by word: the close reading demands the individual words add up to something. To gloss over the words is the thing that allows me to pack in my own meanings. I’ve noticed this tendency for years reading ancient texts with small groups: the farther we get from the words on the page, the easier it is to attach our pet peeves to the author’s supposed/assumed point. But the words themselves lead into or out of meaning and belief.

I was struck by one of our course readings: this poem by Cid Corman:

Cid Corman, “It isnt for want”

It isnt for want

of something to say–

something to tell you–


something you should know–

but to detain you–

keep you from going–


feeling myself here

as long as you are–

as long as you are.

Naturally, there is lots to say as you go word by dash by word. But one thing—from the perspective of conversation—Corman focused on how we know something about ourselves as we stand together in conversation.


Image Credit: Zoltron via thisisnthappiness

Written by kirkistan

September 25, 2012 at 9:08 am

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] with each close reading of Dickinson and Kerouac, each synapses that fires, I am violating state […]

But wait--what do you think? Tell me:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: