‘Modernism in America’ — Online Poetry Course

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Elisa (Lisa) New is a professor of  English at Harvard, with specialities in modern American literature and poetry. Earlier this month she launched an online course on American Modernist poetry, featuring works of Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and others. You will find the registration page here (it has already started, but you can catch up), and a trailer describing the course is below:

I mention the program mainly because I like and admire Lisa New, and because the similar course I took in college (with Reuben Brower, and then-teaching-assistant Neil Rudenstine) was so memorable. But also I mention it because my wife Deb and I play cameo roles in the online course, reading some poems from Spoon River Anthology.

Here is Deb talking with Lisa New about the “Mrs. Kessler” poem from Spoon River.

This one starts with me reading the poem “Aner Clute” from Spoon River, and then Lisa New leads a discussion about it.


The modernist poetry (and fiction) of a century ago has been on our mind during our travels across small-town America, since so much of its subject matters was the bleakness, cruelty, but also grit of early-20th rural and small town life. This is what Spoon River was about! So it was a privilege to be able to discuss this with an actual expert. As the years go by, I find poetry and fiction rising in their relative explanatory power and value — and obviously I’m talking about changes in my own perception rather than difference in the work. Thanks to Lisa New and her team for making this course available.