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University of Pennsylvania

Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (“ModPo”)

University of Pennsylvania via Coursera


ModPo is a FREE (no fee, no charge) fast-paced introduction to modern and contemporary U.S. poetry, with an emphasis on experimental verse, from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman to the present. Participants (who need no prior experience with poetry) will learn how to read poems that are supposedly "difficult." We encounter and discuss the poems one at a time. It's much easier than it seems! Join us and try it!

ModPo is open all year, so you can enroll now, or any time, and join us. Each year we host a lively, interactive 10-week session, in which we move together through the ten-week syllabus. The next live 10-week session of ModPo will begin on September 2, 2023, and will conclude on November 13, 2023. Al Filreis will be in touch with you by email before the September 3 start of the course with all the information you'll need to participate. If you have questions, you can email the ModPo team any time at [email protected]. Much more information about ModPo can be found at

During the 10 weeks of the course, you will be guided through poems, video discussions of each poem, and community discussions of each poem. And (unique among open online courses) we offer weekly, interactive live webcasts. Our famed TAs also offer office hours throughout the week. We help arrange meet-ups and in-site study groups.

If you are curious about the ModPo team, type "ModPo YouTube introduction" into Google or your favorite search engine, and watch the 20-minute introductory video. You will get an overview of the course and will meet the brilliant TAs, who will be encountering the poems with you all the way to the end.

If you use Facebook, join the always-thriving ModPo group: from inside Facebook, search for "Modern & Contemporary American Poetry" and then request to be added as a member. If you have any questions about ModPo, you can post a question to the FB group and you'll receive an almost instant reply.

Much more information about ModPo can be found at .

We tweet all year long at @ModPoPenn and you can also find ModPo colleagues using the hashtag #ModPoLive.

ModPo is hosted by—and is housed at—the Kelly Writers House at 3805 Locust Walk on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia USA. All ModPo'ers are welcome to visit the Writers House when they are in our area. Our discussions are filmed there. Our live webcasts take place in the famed "Arts Cafe" of the House. To find out what's going on at the Writers House any time, just dial 215-746-POEM.


  • chapter 1.1 (week 1)—Whitman & Dickinson, two proto-modernists
    • Week 1 of ModPo 2023 runs from Sunday, September 3 at 9 AM through Sunday, September 10 at 9 AM. For those doing ModPo on their own or in small groups, the week 1 materials are open and available all year.

      In this first week of our course, we'll encounter two 19th-century American poets whose quite different approaches to verse similarly challenged the official verse culture of the time. As a matter of form (but also of content), Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson were radicals. What sort of radicalism is this? In a way, this course is all about exploring expressions of that radicalism from Whitman and Dickinson to the present day. Such challenges to official verse culture (and often U.S. culture at large) present us with a lineage of ideas about art and expression, a tradition that can be outlined, mostly followed, somewhat traced. In this course, we follow, to the best of our ability — and given the limits of time — that tradition and try to make overall sense of it. We will read Divya Victor's "W Is for Walt Whitman's Soul" toward the end of week 1 in anticipation of other later responses to Whitman and Dickinson encountered in week 2.

      You will find that we do this one poem at a time. Here in week 1, we will explore Dickinson first, Whitman second, and then begin to sketch out the major differences between them, which, some say, amount to two opposite ends of the spectrum of poetic experimentalism and dissent in the nineteenth century. Which is to say: on the spectrum of traditional-to-experimental poetry, these two poets are on the same end (experimental); on the spectrum of experimentalism, their approaches can put them on opposite ends. In short, they offer us alternative poetic radicalisms, and their influences down the line (which we will explore in week 2) are both powerful but are also largely distinct. One question you'll be prepared to ask by the end of the course: Is the Dickinsonian or the Whitmanian tradition more ascendant and apt in today's experimental poetry?

      ASSIGNMENTS: During this week, there are two quizzes due (see below); there are no writing assignments or peer reviews due. There is a live webcast on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, at 3PM (Philadelphia time).

Taught by

Al Filreis


4.9 rating, based on 189 Class Central reviews

4.9 rating at Coursera based on 545 ratings

Start your review of Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (“ModPo”)

  • Jan Wenk Cedras
    This is by far the best class that I have taken in many years, both online or in person. Al Filreis is a superb teacher who has boundless enthusiasm, energy and insight. He is generous and thoughtful, inclusive and yet demanding in a positive though…
  • Profile image for Christie Williamson
    Christie Williamson
    I started this course having loved poetry my whole life, written it, translated it, devoured books of it, spent as much of my life in and around it as I possibly could. Indeed I love it so much that I've never trusted a university with it. I've se…
  • I believe I did review this course when I first completed it in 2013. I am delighted to review it again after having completed it in 2014, and also in 2015 - although this year I helped out as a Community TA, which meant I did more peer reviewing an…
  • Anonymous
    ModPo is a superb course in every respect. The video discussions model collaborative close readings, which I think is a real strength of the approach, and the forums are rich with every kind of discussion. The professor, Al Filreis, and TA staff are…
  • Profile image for Apkaptn
    its looks much more informative. "ModPo" is widely regarded as a comprehensive and accessible introduction to modern and contemporary American poetry. The course covers a diverse range of poets and styles, including the Beats, the Black Arts movement, and postmodernism, providing a broad overview of the developments in American poetry in the 20th and 21st centuries. The course materials, including lectures and reading materials, are well-organized and engaging, making the material both informative and enjoyable to study. Overall, "ModPo" is highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring modern American poetry.
  • pomo58
    I was an English major in school decades ago and leaned toward prose and theory, so I didn't give poetry any more time or effort than necessary. As a result, I was ignorant of a great deal of what it takes to appreciate poetry beyond the very basic,…
  • Anonymous
    I was not an active participant this time, but I have been an active participant and have finished twice in the past. No amount of praise would be sufficient to give Al and his program. There are at least two reasons why this course succeeds at th…
  • Bob Zahniser
    This course is GREAT! I was in the last session in 2016. If you're going for the certificate you have to write 4 essays of at least 500 words, and review 4 essays every time you submit an essay. There are online text forums for each poem covered a…
  • There is a story in the New Testament of the Christian Bible where Jesus takes the disciples up to a mountain top, and there they spend the day with the long dead patriarchs of the Jewish faith, and as the day winds down, Peter asks Jesus if maybe t…
  • Nicole
    I cannot get over how wonderful this class was. The class has changed my life and given me a sense of hope, I was not expecting that--I just expected to learn more about poetry, it was much more meaningful than I ever imagined. I learned a lot and…
  • Shirley Collins
    Being in this class is a rewarding, enjoyable, and challenging learning adventure led by a well-organized team. Al Filreis, teaching assistants, community teaching assistants, other staff, and students (national and international) are dedicated, ins…
  • Anonymous
    I have been a student of one kind or other for nearly seventy years, many of those at top universities. I can honestly say that ModPo is probably the best course I have ever had the pleasure of taking. Al Filreis and his TAs are extremely well prepa…
  • Anonymous
    Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) was the most engaging community of scholars and students actively in any online course I’ve ever taken. ModPo involves a “community" through the course materials, discussions, live television and radio…
  • Agnes Vojta
    If you are wondering what an outstanding MOOC looks like, check out Coursera's Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (MODPO) from the University of Pennsylvania. A good mix of reading, audio, videos of the professor discussing with grad students,…
  • Raymond Maxwell
    I am taking ModPo for the second time this year, as are many of my newly found ModPo friends. That is a strong indication of the excellent quality of this course. The course traces the leading trends and movements in the world of modern American poe…
  • Anonymous
    "When a hundred men stand together, each of them loses his mind and gets another one." - Friedrich Nietzsche Watching the introduction video, to what this class Promised to offer, I believed signing up would give me everything I was looki…
  • Jackie Lubeck
    The only mooc I have come across where the teacher and the tracing assistants are easily available, are part of the discussions, always active, and always open to all participants who ask. The focus on modern and contemporary America. poetry centers…
  • Dilip Bhatt
    Yes. I have completed the ModPo course hosted by the University of Pennsylvania through Coursera app. It is a great course and I would like to recommend it for all students of literature and poetry. It is not merely a course but a rich amalgamation…
  • Anonymous
    at 62 this course changed my life when i took it last year and i am looking in still this year. i have health challenges but was able to enrich my life and jump start my brain from home. i am educated, former english and journalism teacher and attor…
  • Radwa
    I've read various reviews before I write mine and I almost agree with every review. I just feel inclined to add that the art of poetry is the real perseverance for any language in the world. I consider it stronger than corpus [ for those who are not…

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