Graham Burchell and Modpo = poetry excitement

Graham Burchell is the new Featured Writer. His marvellous new book The Chongololo Club was recently published by Pindrop Press and he has a string of accolades, as you can see. He travels the country reading his poems and Poetry could be his middle name. Talking of which, I have to admit to my new addiction and it is consuming all my time. My head is boiling over. I can never ever catch up, however hard I try, for it is always moving on again! I didn’t know to put the rest of my life on-hold when I started. I don’t try to kick the habit because I can’t bear to be left out and it draws me back. … What is it? ….not a dream! …but The University of Pennsylvania’s Modpo course… a 10 week very fast-paced and enriching course of study on Modern and Contemporary American Poetry.

The course takes the student from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman through Wallace Stevens, the Harlem Renaissance Poets, Beat Poets, Imagists, Modernists and many more,  up to present day poets like John Ashberry. Have you understood much Stein? I hadn’t till I listened to her. Did you know Kerouac was a poet? I didn’t. Had you heard Ginsberg’s highly wrought ‘ash-can rantings’? I hadn’t. There are hidden messages along the route such as this one by Rae Armantrout who was born in 1947.

The Way

Card in pew pocket


“I am here.”

I made only one statement

because of a bad winter.

Grease is the word; grease

is the way

I am feeling.

Real life emergencies or

flubbing behind the scenes.

As a child,

I was abandoned

in a story

made of trees.

Here’s the small


of this clearing

come “upon” “again”

Well, I had to work really hard on that one! I have had the benefit of many other poetry students who have been discussing things like mad but that poem was one that kept me sleepless all night. The punctuation is one of the keys. Another one which caused much controversy and which I came to admire hugely is by Genevieve Taggard (Published in Proletarian Literature in the United States [1935]):


A middle class fortress in which to hide! Draw down the curtain as if saying No, While noon’s ablaze, ablaze outside. And outside people work and sweat And the day clings by and the hard day ends. And after you doze brush out your hair And walk like a marmoset to and fro And look in the mirror at middle-age And sit and regard yourself stare and stare And hate your life and your tiresome friends And last night’s bridge where you went in debt; While all around you gathers the rage Of cheated people Will we hear your fret In the rising noise of the streets? Oh no!

If anyone wants to explore any of these poems I can share some of what was said about them. I’d love to hear what you think anyway!

As the course is based in Pennsylvania (imagine it: they have a lovely house dedicated to writing called Kelly Writers’ House…gasp!) it is all on-line with a very comprehensive syllabus using text, videos, audios, threads of conversation, essays and quizzes. I expect you can still join it and its free. Even doing just a little some of it would be worth it. Professor Al Filreis is a real inspiration. My eyes are turning into rotating saucers, my fingers can’t stop opening up the Modpo course to read yet another poem, study another link. Modpo has become a by-word in our household as I wake to learn something else new or become captivated by a Gertrude Stein You Tube video like the one here.


About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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5 Responses to Graham Burchell and Modpo = poetry excitement

  1. Gosh, Becky, this is so exciting you make me want to abandon my current projects and rush straight to the Modpo course. Your enthusiasm is infectious – thank you for sharing it!

  2. I have been loving Modpo too – the opportunity to look at US poetry heritage in all its contexts has been flaring fireworks off in my head. Which is one of my favourite things to happen. I especially loved William Carlos Williams ‘Danse Russe’ and read the entire lengthy forum about it afterwards, and contributed.
    As an admirer of all things from Ballet Russe era, I was both amused and delighted by WCW doing his own Nijinsky impressions in the bathroom mirror. I have decided not to do the assignments though – cannot be bovvered – well, I am rather occupied with other things than essays right now. And I’m still dealing with my responses to Stein…hmm…will report back.

    And that Graham Burchell – ooh! I love it when people I know make good in the bigger world, so some loud cheering going on here for Graham and the Chongolo Club. I heard him read some of the poems from it a while back, superb.

    And you Becky, love your blogs! Thanks

    • perhaps we should have an Ashburton Modpo gathering and advertise it on the Modpo site and see if anyone else turns up!
      I Totally agree about Danse Russe and wasn’t the discussion forum interesting? All of them are.
      I am not doing the assignments either and often the hopeless BB out here slows right down so the videos are too slow to watch.

  3. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Just a quick note to thank you (as always) for your wonderful posts – both your own writings and that of your guests. I’m so glad you’ve highlighted the ModPo course. I’m taking it too, and it’s VERY stimulating. I think people can still enroll – and if they do then they will have access to all the materials for a year after the course ends….that’s what you found out, isn’t it Becky? But one would have to enroll before the course ends. I shall return later with more comments…must get to work!! xx

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