If we could channel a time before “how to code” seemed deemed the only thing worth learning, an enhanced appreciation for poetry would probably feature highly on surveys of edificatory aspiration. Such a goal may also be among those most rarely pursued, though, given the barriers—real or imagined—that surround that most refined of literary forms.
Enter the MOOC. Maligned as they are, MOOCs can actually be just the thing for someone looking for a bit of guidance on a first foray into an area they may never have visited on their own. And so Harvard’s edX Poetry in America series has hopefully been received as a welcome entry point for the masses to whom it’s open.
This course, the fourth installment of the multi-part Poetry in America series, explores the poetry of Emily Dickinson, one of America’s most distinctive and prolific poets. While Dickinson wrote nearly 2,000 poems during her lifetime, she chose never to publish, opting instead to revisit and revise her works throughout her lifetime. Keeping this dynamic of self-revision in mind, we will consider a number of Dickinson’s poems—many seemingly in tension with one another—concerned with Nature, Art, the Self, and Darkness. We will travel to the Dickinson Collection at Harvard's Houghton Library, and to Amherst, Massachusetts, paying a visit to the house in which the poet lived and wrote until her death in 1886. Distinguished guests for this module include NBA athlete Jason Collins, dancers Damian Woetzel and Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, and President and CEO of the New America Foundation Anne Marie Slaughter, among others.
Led by Harvard Professor Elisa New, Poetry in America surveys nearly 400 years of American poetry. Through video lectures, archival images and texts, expeditions to historic sites, interpretive seminars with large and small groups, interviews with poets and scholars, and conversations about poems with distinguished Americans, Poetry in America embarks on a journey through the literature of a nation. Distinguished guests, including President Bill Clinton, Elena Kagan, Henry Louis Gates, Eve Ensler, John McCain, Andrea Mitchell, Michael Pollan, Drew Faust, Tony Kushner, and Nas, among others, bring fresh perspectives to the study of American Poetry.
Previous units of the course took as their subjects the poetry of early New England, “Nature and Nation,” and Walt Whitman. With the launch in 2013 of the open access Emily Dickinson Archive, though, this new installment should prove itself an unusually fruitful bit of internet matchmaking. And, as Houghton Library curator and Emily Dickinson Archive General Editor Leslie Morris explains in the video below, that’s exactly what we all hoped for as the Archive took shape.