This page provides introductions for a few major course features and activities. I’ve designed it with an eye toward making sure everyone knows what they’ve gotten themselves into before VCU’s drop/add period ends for Summer 2018 term E (which is only one short day into the term). But it will also serve as a course schedule for anyone participating on the open web or reading about this course after its completion. A few quick points:

  1. This is an open online course. This means that, apart from grade submission and evaluations, everything will be conducted over open platforms. We will be using twitter and blogs primarily, and while I don’t require you to publicize your work, anyone might be able to see what you’ve done. I like the concept of open coursework because it has easily convinced students in the past that I am not the only audience for their work; at the very least, writing on blogs and twitter will make our comments and contributions much easier to keep track of. In the past I’ve taught with Blackboard wikis for small group projects, and these were both clunky and proprietary: Blackboard possesses final ownership over anything a course participant creates. By using open platforms, I can also make sure that you retain full possession to anything you write. I only link to it! If you wish, you can continue blogging and tweeting about poems long after this semester.
  2. We will use Twitter for our large-group conversations. For those of you who don’t know, twitter caps each individual “tweet” at 140 characters, so it may seem counterintuitive to use it for a discussion. Furthermore, you must use the #vizpoem hashtag for any tweet you wish your classmates to see, so you really only have 132 characters. (If you forget it once or twice, you can always modify the original and retweet it; but we won’t see it unless you add that hashtag). Suppose you think to yourself, “That’s odd for an English class, to force me to be succinct.” On the one hand, I could say back to you, “What sort of long-winded English classes are you used to?” Additionally, you can always tweet more than once if you can’t figure out a way to condense a comment into that brief span. But you’ll find there is an art to being terse and still getting your point across, so try not to break sentences up among several tweets. I’m trying to emphasize half-formed thoughts or brief elaborations on previous tweets, because the point is not to hold forth or dominate a conversation, but to engage with other people trying to form consensus around a tough question. I have more to say about this over on the FAQ page.
  3. For blogging, I use WordPress myself, but you should use Rampages, a VCU-housed hub of WordPress blogs administered by colleagues of mine here on campus. The Netvibes page that aggregates our class blogs is just an RSS feed reader — so you could send me a link to your blog, and the tag you will consistently use for posts for this class, and the posts bearing that tag would be the only ones to appear on the Netvibes page (you could keep blogging about other things as much as you liked, and nobody would be confused). You’ll find we will be blogging a lot, but the posts do not need to be too long, and they will include a lot more images and sounds than this page might suggest as a model. At the end of the term, you’ll be able to look back and see how you’ve certainly been reading a lot of poetry! And of course, you’ll have gotten really good at explaining to yourself (and the world) what poetry means to you.
  4. For both the blogging and the tweets, it’s more important to me that you make your deadlines and fulfill your obligations than that you produce perfectly worded tweets or exquisitely illustrated poem pages every time: these things ought to be informal. In terms of consistency and effort leading toward better outcomes, quantity trumps quality here; I far prefer a student who completes work in time for her classmates to read what she’s written than someone who procrastinates until long after the activity concludes: even though that person’s finished product might be great, nobody could learn from it in the moment. This course works best when everybody buys into the process. We’re all in this together, as I’ll hope to prove.

You’ll see on the Week 1 task list that the first post post should be an introduction:

Write an introductory post telling us about yourself, why you took this course, when during the day you will be completing work for this course (tell us a little bit about your other obligations and we may be able to accommodate your schedule) and how familiar you might be with poetry in general and “the lyric” in particular. Also, reflect on why you made your blog look the way it does: this is the webspace where you’ll be spending a lot of time over the next two months, so it’s important that you customize it until you and your audience would feel comfortable there. I suggest playing around with the themes, which you can access through Appearance –> Customize –> Theme in your blog’s dashboard.

Part of this assignment is to start your blog, and you have to start somewhere! Part of the point of the resulting post is to help us know how and when to contact you. If you are out of town, or out of the country, and will be blogging from somewhere with an appreciable time zone difference, that will be valuable information to someone wishing to get in touch with you and would otherwise wonder why you are writing at 4:30 am EDT. It will also be useful to all of us to know how familiar we are with poetry. I have absolutely no expectations about your experiences with poetry! You don’t need to know anything about it going into the class. But probably you have heard or read some poems in the past, and it would be good to let us start finding out who you are in the context of the course work.

Example Introductory blog post:

Hi! I’m Jason, and I work at VCU. I’m primarily available by email ( by Skype (my handle is JMCoats1), although I prefer to Skype only during normal business hours — I’m usually in my office Mondays through Fridays from 9am – 5pm, but then again I may have to change plans at short notice for childrearing reasons, so it’s best to tweet or email me to set up an appointment. I’ll also be out of town June 7-17, when I’ll help score the AP English Lit exam in Kansas City, MO. But through the magic of the internet I will still be reachable! I took my first poetry course in 1995 when I was still pre-med, and eventually double-majored in English and Biochemistry at the U of Michigan. My teacher’s name is Marjorie Levinson, and she was an amazing influence on me. Her syllabus was half on William Wordsworth (her specialty) and half on Elizabeth Bishop (whose poems she had never taught, but whom she’d always admired). Anyway, now here I am teaching poetry in my turn, hoping to pay it forward.

Finally, if you are not registered for this course at VCU, you don’t have access to the syllabus on Blackboard. It might help to have the weekly schedule spelled out at length:


1: Introduction to Open Online / Critical Thinking about the Genre

In the first week you will be introduced to the realities of open online coursework while beginning to think about poetry as a genre. Major activities include generating a twitter account and webpage for yourself and writing up your initial assessments about poetry using a small set of sample poems I’ve selected for your evidence.

2: Reading Poetry & Personae

In the second week you will be introduced to the concept of persona as a method for reading poetry in order to become acquainted with a voice. We will also conduct our first “Fakepoets” role-playing activity over twitter.

3: New Criticism: Figures, Irony, Ambiguity, Sounds, Looks, Rhythms

In the third week we will study a variety of critical ways of approaching, reading, analyzing, and interpreting poems.

4: Visual Imagery, Imagism, and Anthropomophic Poems

In the fourth week we will focus more exclusively on poetic imagery as a means of understanding poetry. We will start with the sorts of images all poems employ, and then look at two types of poems that use imagery in unusual ways.

5: Midterm Exam Prep

Review how to read and argue about poems. Practice midterm and reflections. Week-long “Fakepoets” activity with multiple personae. 

6: Ekphrastic and Concrete Poetry

In the sixth week we will continue our focus on imagery by reading poems that actively gesture toward outside images (usually famous paintings) or that require their readers to contend with their visual appearance on the page.

7: Posthumanist Poems and Visual (net-native, internet) Poetry

In the seventh week we study computer-generated poetry (including the so-called Markov chain, modified to semi-randomly compile personae) and multimodal, digitally-native poems (computer-composed poetry).

8: Final Exam Review and Digital Projects

The final project will either be a multimodal digital version of one or more syllabus texts or a creative project that uses syllabus texts, illustration, and annotation.


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