Eng Lit MOOC unit 2: Poetics

So here’s the thing: I do not and have never written poetry and I only read it a little.

But the first part of Saylor Foundation’s Eng Lit MOOC on poetry, from the Open University, is perhaps just a little too encouraging. They get you writing your own poems in the first couple of hours.

So here’s what I’ve done (it’s one of three, but the other two are worse).

It’s the story of Kali before she became such a badass. Kali’s – at present – my favourite god, being the sort of old-testament style god of destruction everyone wants on their side. I’m pretty certain stories of young Hindu gods exist, just as we have tales of the young Mary and saints in The Golden Legend.

As with The Gruffalo, you can easily spot the areas I struggled to achieve a decent rhyme.

It does, of course, violate several principles of good poetry set out in Fleur Adcock’s very funny poem included in this course – I’ve inverted phrases to make them rhyme; there’s some dodgy archaisms thrown in, and what the hell, I’d happily put it on pink paper and append a photo of the author/ her pets. I’m not hoping to win prizes, just to get to grips with how poetry works.

Timid Kali

When I was born, my mother cried- it’s strange
she knew that I would be Black, Time, Death, Change
Annihilator of the Dawn, and more
Shiva’s grave consort, fighting evil for
redemption of the Universe, the great
revered Mother Goddess, fierce potentate.

But timid child, I was afraid of this.
So snot-nosed Kali, gentle, crying miss
clung to my mother’s skirts, and shameful hid
from village boys and girls, who teasing bid
me fill pots with water or gather wood
or wash their coarse-wove clothes, in river’s flood
or pick fleas from their hair;

but when the fire
consumed our fated village, only I would live.

My first MOOC essay: a New Historicist approach to The Cask of Amontillado

In a milestone for my English Literature Mooc, I’ve just filed my first essay, a new historicist approach to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.

The principal difference between this and my first, conventional History degree, is that the work is optional.

It’s probably the first time in my life that I’ve written an essay that will not be read or reviewed by anyone else.

And because of the semi-optional nature of a piece of work that will not be reviewed, I’m surprised to find that I not only wrote a page that the course demanded, I wrote 3. It took about six hours.

The other major difference shows my age. I wrote my essays long-hand at University (1995-9), but I was probably the last generation to do so. And the internet was not very useful to my essay work then.

Today, the internet really is useful. What’s brilliant is being able to find so many historical and literary texts online. I could read The Cask online in its entirety. And I could find several critiques of The Cask to compare with my own.

But it doesn’t have everything.

In some ways, I feel my sense of scholarship is undermined. I could not find the tale online that, according to Wikipedia, The Cask answers, or the journal which discusses it. And that doesn’t feel quite safe – after all, anyone could have doctored that entry.

However, I was able to check the dates of other works I felt Poe’s story derives from or is influenced by, and in many cases read them; and I could check my imperfect recollections of 19th century history.

As for the decision to take a New Historicist approach, – well, it was very influenced by my historical training. A punchy Marxist approach could have limited the essay to a page (the two central characters appeared to be the same class). A psychoanalytical approach would have worked, but would have to rely on conjecture. Besides, both would have been a-historical, in the sense that the tale was written before Das Kapital and before Freud.

So the question remains, have I learned much, or am I leaning too heavily on my existing knowledge of history and of literature, and viewing what I read through that prism?

I suspect the latter – so as I get into the next Unit of my MOOC (Poetics) I am going to read some more literary theory.