An MFA-like syllabus for the self-educating poet

Education is a human right. Education should be free. I remember chanting that at Occupy Boston as I participated in Free School University (FSU), and those memories come back to me now.

Fortunately, as many of my friends in poetry have said, there are plenty of free or low-cost education options online. I have compiled them below to fit an “MFA theme,” which would comprise literature/literary studies, writing workshops and critical theory.

Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 12.13.15 PMLiterature/literary studies

Google Arts and Culture has the following offerings related to poetry (though anything can relate to poetry so explore away!)

Edx has the following offerings and you just have to register to have access to the archived course materials:

Coursera has the following offerings:

  • Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (I took this course years ago and had a great experience.)
  • Modern American Poetry “The course highlights both major poets—from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson through T.S. Eliot, H.D., Amy Lowell, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Muriel Rukeyser, and many others—and influential movements. The course mixes historical overview with close readings of individual poets and poems.”
  • Words Spun Out of Images: Visual and Literary Culture in Nineteeth Century Japan “In their ambition to capture “real life,” Japanese painters, poets, novelists and photographers of the nineteenth century collaborated in ways seldom explored by their European contemporaries. This course offers learners the chance to encounter and appreciate behavior, moral standards and some of the material conditions surrounding Japanese artists in the nineteenth century, in order to renew our assumptions about what artistic “realism” is and what it meant.”
  • Greek and Roman Mythology “This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths. Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Are they a set of blinders that all of us wear, though we do not realize it? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.”

Participate in The Sealey Challege started by poet and educator Nicole Sealey. Read more here.

Penn Sound– A resource for finding poetry recordings featuring historical and current poets

Ocean Vuong: The 10 Books I Needed To Write My Novel

Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 12.15.53 PMWriting Workshops (or options that focus on writing) etc…

Coursera offers:

  • Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot “In this course aspiring writers will be introduced to perhaps the most elemental and often the most challenging element of story: plot.  We will learn what keeps it moving, how it manipulates our feelings, expectations, and desires.  We will examine the choices storytellers make to snag our imaginations, drag them into a fictional world, and keep them there. We will learn how to outline and structure a plot, discuss narrative arc, pacing and reversals and reveal the inevitable surprise: connecting the beginning, middle and end.” (Coursera does offer Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop but I found it boring and too basic. Hopefully, this option would be better.)
  • Transmedia Storytelling: Narrative Worlds, Emerging Technologies, and Global Audiences “Transmedia storytelling is the practice of designing, sharing, and participating in a cohesive story experience across multiple traditional and digital delivery platforms – for entertainment, advertising and marketing, or social change.”
  • Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself (Specialization) “How To Write About Yourself…so that someone else wants to read it! This is the heart of this Coursera specialization in Memoir and Personal Essay. Masters of both genres share tips, prompts, exercises, readings and challenges to help every writer imagine, construct and write compelling pieces of non-fiction’s most popular form: the personal narrative.”

Writers of Color Discussing Craft– An Invisible ArchiveIncludes “writing resources that have been written, edited, or presented by writers of color.”

Khan Academy offers a class on storytelling and some parts of it may be useful. You probably don’t need to create your own theme park but the particular unit called, “Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling” is a good place to start.

Udemy offers the following:

Grub Street has various classes for writers in different genres including poetry, memoir, fiction and nonfiction. The classes usually involve a fee and the website says they give out scholarships sometimes. 

Letter to Poetry Lovers by Airea Dee:The writing life is not an easy one, and it’s further complicated by the seeming need to be credentialed in order to make a living. I’m here to say you can actually do any number of day jobs and still be an amazing poet.” Read more here

Find the complete Non-Craft MFA Resources put together by Airea Dee here.

Critical Theory

Critical Theory Reading List

The Poetry Foundation has various essays on poetry as well as features on poets and their poems.

Lit Hub has a great selection of literary theory and current articles.


About marchpenn

poet, tarot reader
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3 Responses to An MFA-like syllabus for the self-educating poet

  1. lerial says:

    Wow- thanks so much for curating this list of resources. 🙂

    • pennapril says:

      Fyi- If you haven’t already, feel free to join our group that engages with this weekly. DIY MFA Self Educating Poets Network.

  2. Pingback: #045: all this time/sunday roundup | The LERiAL

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