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Posts Tagged ‘Coursera

Minnesota’s Outlaw Poetry Students

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Did I mention Coursera is free?

I’m taking a Modern Poetry Class with Coursera. It’s free (which is stunningly amazing), offers no credit. I expect no credit—I’m not working toward a degree.

And with each close reading of Dickinson and Kerouac, each synapses that fires, I am violating state law.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported Friday on a story from Salon that Coursera heard from my (uptight) state, to wit:

Notice for Minnesota Users

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

To Summarize: my state won’t let me take a free course because I might lose money. Did I mention the course is free?

I am baffled. I think the roots of this odd quasi-enforcement have to do with Minnesotans wasting their time and money (and state funding) on for-profit schools that offer little chance of graduating. But here the fear has been applied in broad brush strokes, since there was no promise of credit or degrees. Minnesota’s one-size-fits-all solution does not fit. That needs revisiting.

But I’m OK. Because every time I read my readings and watch the lectures, I find myself back at UW Madison law library with the chain smokers and worried scribblers. Or back in Iowa next to the Des Moines River. Or back anywhere that isn’t Minnesota. Because Minnesota’s dream of enforcement is about that likely, and much less credible.



Addendum: It looks like my state found a finer brush to paint our laws:

Written by kirkistan

October 20, 2012 at 10:07 am

Ginsberg’s “tanked-up clatter” vs. the Gray Flannel Suit vs. a Third Way

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Peace for the Listening Lurking Capitalist

We’re at the Beats and Allen Ginsberg and Howl now in our march through modern poetry. A recent discussion took in a stanza that seems relatively autobiographical, describing Ginsberg’s failed flirtation with advertising:

who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue

amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regi-

ments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertis-

ing & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down

by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,

There is lots to talk about in this section (indeed, the entirety of Howl begs for response and discussion), including “leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter” and the irresistible “nitroglycerine shrieks.”

Of particular interest to me was the quickness with which our TA/discussion buddies blasted the hackiness of advertising copy. Of course the poets are right (and anybody actually creating ads readily confesses to their role in purveying crass capitalism), still…not everything is “clumsy, tacky copywriting.” That knee-jerk reaction to advertising covers a lot of ground well. But the comment misses the diabolical under-the-skin genius of the copy that got through and has already been ingested and now guides our subconscious. Professor Al hit closer to home when brought up “very slick” old slogans that remain memorable. Ginsberg’s insights at that point are perceptive and well-wrought, but I cannot help but insist on seeing the beauty of some advertising. The turn of a phrase that attaches (yes, at times parasitically to a target brain) is, well, amazing. It’s a kind of poetry let loose among today’s pages and screens and whispers.

There is a way to be at peace with using creativity to solve business problems. The way of peace wanders alongside the grove of manipulation without wandering in. This path follows a course of respectful persuasion, with nods to the “I and Thou” while resolutely trimming and toning messages for real-life use.

There is a way between “clumsy, tacky” and slick manipulation. That is a way of service that can be beautiful in its workmanlike portrayal of practical truths.


Image Credit: marcedith via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

October 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

Coursera Learnings: The Close Reading

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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

Today I start a Coursera Modern Poetry Class. I have over 29600 classmates.

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It’s a big room.

I’ve always had a hard time with poetry. Except for Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, and William Carlos Williams and a few others, I mostly don’t get it. Over the years a few smart and patient friends have helped me glimpse what I’ve been missing. Those few glimpses have made me hungry for more.

So I signed up for a Coursera course. This one is taught by Al Filreis through the University of Pennsylvania. It’s free to take and so far, even the readings look like they are freely available on the web. The fact that nearly 30,000 people signed up for the ten-week course seems to have shocked everyone, including the instructors.

Why Poetry When There is So Much Real Work to be Done?

Poetry and copywriting are joined at the hip.

I see you rolling your eyes.

Listen: reducing a big idea to the shortest, most succinct nugget that cannot be ignored by a target audience is the heart of copywriting. Yes, it’s true we often waste that succinctifying power on soda and beer and lingerie and the Reliant K-car. But not always: sometimes we write to expose human trafficking and to raise money for refugee crises or to invite people to reconcile with God. All these uses—whether mundane or transcendent—use that succinctifying muscle. Longer-term readers of this blog might argue that whether mundane or transcendent, the work of serving with words is valuable. I agree.

Sharpening that succinctifying muscle is what interests me. I hope that will be one outcome from the course, as I see what poets have succeeded at encapsulating experience into words and phrases. Of course, I’m guessing there will be much, much more to it.


Image Credit: Dr. Seuss via thisisnthappiness

Written by kirkistan

September 10, 2012 at 5:00 am

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