Every Atom: Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"

This course is now closed. To access the course materials for free, visit: http://www.distancelearningiwp.org/atom14

In February 2014, the International Writing Program will open its literature MOOC, Every Atom: Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." This MOOC offers an opportunity for the interactive study of the Whitman poem. Every Atom is taught by Christopher Merrill, IWP Director and University of Iowa Professor of English, and Ed Folsom, a preeminent Whitman scholar. This MOOC is freely available to everyone in the world.

Course Description

Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s "Song of Myself" takes a collective approach to a close reading of America’s democratic verse epic, first published without a title in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass and later titled Song of Myself in the 1881 edition. The poem expresses not only Whitman’s all-encompassing poetic vision, but also a radical imagining of a new kind of democracy for America and elsewhere. Published on the eve of the U.S. Civil War and revised during and after the war, Song of Myself ultimately teaches us not how to participate as individuals in a society, but how the “I” is never individual. To that end, Every Atom takes place as a conversation among multitudes: a renowned poet and translator, Christopher Merrill; a preeminent Whitman scholar, Ed Folsom; and you, along with many others who enter into a spirited exchange about how this challenging and mind-altering poem accretes new meaning for every reader.

Through reading "Song of Myself," we’ll touch on such topics as democracy, sexuality and the body, science, politics, nature, and the cosmos. These topics will arise through a reading of the poem as well as through exploring the historical and textual matters surrounding it. Further, we’ll think about the problems of translating the poem as it moves into other languages and contexts.

Online resources such as The Whitman Archive and The Whitman Web will help us navigate our course. We encourage you to participate in this course at whatever level you prefer; there are no requirements. We also wish to draw a range of readers, from those unfamiliar with American poetry to those who are looking to approach this modern classic from a new direction. Please join us as we “tramp a perpetual journey” of reading and thinking “onward and outward”––together.

IWP Online Campus

The IWP Online Campus, a MOOC outreach initiative, provides the IWP's creative writing and literature MOOCs as MOOCpacks, online toolkits that feature all of the course content and various teaching tools for use in a study group or workshop setting. As part of the IWP's commitment to global accessibility for educational resources, the kits are designed to be used by anyone, anywhere in the world who wishes to lead a local group; no prior teaching experience is necessary. If you are interested in using this MOOC to lead a local study group or workshop, visit our IWP Online Campus page for more details.

Happening Now

  • We regret the passing, on April 11, 2024, of the distinguished Romanian author and critic Dan Cristea, who served as the editor in chief of the Luceafărul de Dimineață cultural monthly. In addition to being an alum of the 1985 Fall Residency, Cristea received his PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa.

  • Our congratulations to 1986 Fall Residency writer Kwame Dawes, who has been named the new poet laureate of Jamaica.

  • Congratulations to our colleagues Jennifer Croft and Aron Aji, who are among those serving as judges for the National Book Awards this year, in their case in the category of translated literature.

  • Ranjit Hoskote’s speech at the 2024 Goa Literary Festival addresses the current situation in Gaza.

  • In NY Times, Bina Shah worries about the state of Pakistani—and American—democracy.

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