Modern Poetry I

Aug 2011

I had Prof. Mass (yes, an endearing nickname) for Modern Poetry in my senior fall. Awesome class. He is a wealth of information and ideas, eccentric, knowledgable. Be prepared to listen carefully when you get to class though. He throws knowledge at you (often a hodge podge of literature and philosophy- but don't worry, CC covers enough of the philosophy you need- and also, his own theories and interpretation.) He is friendly, kind, fun, and interesting. Likes it when you participate in class. Take the class! A note: If you enjoyed CC or philosophy, you will enjoy the modernist literature, since it is often about the search for meaning.

May 2011

prof mass. you either love him or hate him. i took "modern poetry" my sophomore year, and it remains one of the best english classes i've taken at columbia. he's funny, witty, and extremely passionate. one of his readings of t.s eliot made a girl faint in class. yes, his lectures can be rambling and go on many tangents, so if you're the bullet-point type of note taker, then steer clear. but if performative lectures, free wheeling narratives and multiple allusions are up your alley, take a course with him while you can.

Dec 2010

Rambling, but thoroughly likable and approachable, like a Keebler elf with flyaway hair. And definitely always interesting, even if you think poetry should have ended with the dirty limerick. The best thing about Prof Mass, besides the crap Irish accent he puts on for Yeats classes, is that it's fine if you can't find a sensible narrative thread through his lectures, because you will never be asked to throw up his ideas or theories in a paper or on an exam. Every assignment is totally in the moment - it's all about your reading of this single poem. Handy for those of us with short memories. Just make sure that you set aside the week leading up to the due date of a Prof Mass paper, because that's about all the advance notice you'll get about the actual topic. Dude is not so much into preparedness or deadlines.

Mar 2010

Prof. Massimilla is a nice guy, but I felt completely lost at sea the entire semester. This might be partially because Massimilla tends to give his own wacky interpretations to the poems mixed in with more traditions ones, and doesn't usually say when he is departing from the norm. This means that you are never quite sure if you are crazy or prof. Mass. In my opinion, it was usually him-- he can be quite unorthodox in his close readings, i think. All of this can be quite disorientating to a student new to modern poetry as I was. Also, the classroom was WAY to small, and every class a few people had to sit on the floors

Jan 2010

Prof. Mass is an excellent professor. His class was extremely valuable to me, because his perspectives on each of the poets is a great combination of the official critical consensus and his own observations and crazy, quirky readings of the poems. He does occasionally get into weird topics (bringing in Kant's thing-in-itself, Heraclitean flux, etc.), but, hey, this is Columbia, and if you can follow him, his observations are almost always germane to the poem. The best thing I can say about this class is that there are about a half-dozen poems, maybe more, that I didn't know before I came into this class that have had a profound impact on me the way poetry (and literature in general) ought to. I understand why some reviewers have considered Prof. Mass overrated, and I consider some of the objections valid. For instance, Prof. Mass' lecture style is fairly disorganized; the first time you encounter a poet he'll usually give a biographical sketch, but after that, he'll just sort of find a poem he likes and ramble about it, bringing in ideas from philosophy, finding political/cultural references, explaining subtle (and not so subtle) allusions, connecting the poem to the poet's career as a whole, and occasionally asking questions. This would be unpleasant if his rambling wasn't 100% full of valuable observations about the poem at hand. Nevertheless, I can see where this style might irritate some students. The other thing about Prof Mass is that he doesn't generally go into many technical nuances of syntax or devices, or do line-by-line analysis of the poems. It's not that he can't (he does, every now and then); it's just that he tends to stay more general, making specific observations and dealing with how one thing connects to another, etc. I actually agree with the person that said this class was Modern Poetry Appreciation, and honestly, I feel that it should be. I'm sure there are more technically intensive classes out there, but going to class and getting Prof Mass' readings of some interesting poems, is, if nothing else, a great way to spend and hour and a half every monday and wednesday. Also, fyi, he may or may not bring it up in the first couple of classes, but there are discussion sections that you will have to fit into your schedule. They're not technically mandatory, but they deal with a lot of the poems you don't get to in class, and they help the participation part of your grade.

Dec 2009

A little bit crazy but pretty effective at presenting a wide variety of modern poets, raises lots of weird existential questions and sometimes is hard to follow but definitely appreciates and loves what he does. He is a poet first and a professor next, sometimes I felt like I was in a performance instead of a class and got lost and had no idea what poem we were originally talking about. It's a good class to fulfill the English poetry requirement though. When you actually go to his office hours, you definitely get the sense that he is always thinking about what the subject of his next poem will be and one-on-one time often complicates your understanding of the poems more.

Nov 2009

Prof. Mass is awesome!! He is so enthusiastic, dynamic, and energetic. He is very excited about the material, and his excitement is absolutely contagious! Modern Poetry was a fulfilling class to take with him--a great introduction to American and British modernist poets. Prof. Mass is very knowledgeable about his material--he knows many of these poems by heart, and reads into them with great depth. He puts a lot of effort into his class, and in response, you want to do the work and put in your share of the effort. He comments on papers meticulosuly, giving you a plenitude of constructive criticism and feedback. The only drawback about Modern Poetry is that class should be a bit longer! Prof. Mass always has more to say, and you always want to hear what it is. I highly recommend him--but see for yourself, go to the first class and get blown away by his energy!

Oct 2009

Disappointing. This course should really be called "Modern Poetry Appreciation." Massimilla's sole intent is seemingly just to get you to like modern poetry. He does that--or I should say that the poems do that. They're wonderful. But this is hardly sufficient for a 3000-level course at Columbia. The source of the problem, I think, is that Massimilla isn't an academic; he's a poet. He's a pretty good one but his perspective makes this a very limited class in my opinion. He doesn't sustain coherent arguments. Like a connoisseur that will taste something and tell you how great it is and how it reminds him of that dish he had in Napa, Massimilla will spend a lot of time talking about how this poem is like another poem, or how lovely it is, or what category it belongs in, or how he once met the poet and what a funny man he was, etc. This is why I say it seemed more like a poetry appreciation class. There's much enthusiasm but not a whole lot of insight. The (rather obvious) assertion of the course as a whole was that there are multiple modernisms. I recall a very funny gourmet, lovely guy he was, who once waxed poetic on the world's varieties of salt: there's smoked and flaked and rock and...I nodded off after he started his classifying but before he ended it...which reminds me of a certain class that I once took.

Sep 2009

From Dissent: "No one is better acquainted with Auden’s papers than Mendelson, who was a graduate student at Yale when he first met Auden in 1970. (Auden appointed him executor in 1972 after Mendelson used his cache of copies of Auden’s work to help the poet assemble a collection of prose, Forewords and Afterwords.)" I'll explain: Around 1970, the elderly WH Auden, who was, after Eliot, the most influential 20th century British poet, unable to find copies of his early work, discovered that a Yale grad student had collected them. Auden made a bold decision. He invited the young man to hang out with him and his ancient, drunken, famous poet friends, answered all his questions, and made the kid his literary executor, his literary heir. It's forty years later. Auden (b. 1907) and his modernist generation have been gone for thirty years, and only Ed Mendelson, himself now in his sixties, can write of the great English modernist poets from first hand knowledge. He is acknowledged as their finest interpreter, and our last living link to them. Does that fact appear anywhere in these reviews? What does? He won't let you wear your baseball cap in class. And this site dares to call itself "professorial ability?" You're evaluating yourselves, and with terrible clarity.

Aug 2009

Prof. Mass. is incredibly well-read, and this class has been one of my favorites at Columbia. You will learn so, so much about modern poetry and its roots, but you will also love the reading, which just consists of beautiful poetry. Prof. Mass. himself is charming and quirky and wonderful as well; he hosts dinners for former students and always comes in bouncing around and throwing up notes. The class is a lecture, but it was never boring. I often found myself writing down his words verbatim in my notebook, since he has such insightful and beautifully phrased remarks about each poet. You really delve into the poems themselves, too, and he loves class participation, so speak up. He is such an incredible professor that he made a large lecture feel like an intimate discussion section. If you're interested in poetry, you will absolutely love getting to class, madly copying down the notes, and doing the reading. Everything I did for this class was a pleasure.

May 2009

As a senior I just have to say that I'm really glad I took this class. The work was moderate... maybe a little bit much if you do all the readings, but you don't really have to read all the poems just the ones he highlights in class. If you have time go to the first lecture, and check it out yourself... the decision will be easy.

May 2009

It's not that he's a bad teacher--he's not. But the entire class is based solely on his interpretations of Auden, Eliot and Yeats. He complains about how "typical English classes" are run, and insists that to read your own personal experiences in the poetry is arrogant, and forces you to look at what the poem itself is saying. This isn't a bad method, but the constant mocking of this not-preferred poetry analysis method wears thin, as does his constant repetition of the same stories and analogies from January to May: the "weird Goth student" who always sat in the back that he looked up on Facebook, the previous student who asked stupid questions, the outraged student. In fact, he almost seemed a bit disappointed that no one in the class was able to provide him with new fodder. The class itself breaks down into about four weeks of Yeats, three weeks of Eliot, and six weeks of Auden. It feels unbalanced, and once you're aware that Auden is his specialty, it does make more sense, in a way. If you like reading poetry, you'll like the class. You'll be bored at 9:10 in the morning (though he's always late) and frustrated that you can't bring a laptop, but your homework is reading three really great poets, so it's worth it. Just don't expect Professor Mendelson to suddenly light up the world of understanding poetry for you--as he'll tell you, he doesn't think one is meant to find the Great Truth in poetry.

Mar 2009

Judging from my own experience and the other reviews of this and Mendelson's other classes, he should stop teaching it. I took this class after reading all of the other sparkling reviews about how EM is such a great guy and loves to give As. The class is easy and the reading is light, true, but it's also horrifically boring. Even EM knows he's boring! (He mentioned at the beginning of the semester that he'd try to open the floor for questions at the end of each class because our attention would start to wane.) I can also believe and agree with the comments I've read about EM considering his undergrad students to be idiots. I agree, it's a little depressing to hear a student fumble through a question with a lot of 'um's and 'uh's, but EM can be really harsh in response. (For example, shouting "PROJECT!" at every meek female in the class doesn't encourage many others to ask questions. Also, pointing out that the answer to a question is "Obvious" or "Silly" doesn't make for much conversation.) Finally, his tangents (due to poor lesson planning or forgetting to bring his book) often make him hard to follow or even incomprehensible. I think what bothered me most was that Mendelson's style of teaching is so opinionated and biased that he doesn't leave any room for his students to question him. Not at all the gold nugget I'd been hoping for. =/

Feb 2009

Prof Mass, as he likes to be called, is the best professor I've had at Columbia so far. Not only does he know his stuff through and through (he often quotes extensive lines of poetry by memory, sometimes in the original language), he also has the vibrant personality to infuse every poem and poet with energy and make you equally interested and passionate in the subject matter as he is. To top it all off, Prof Mass is also HILARIOUS, and had us in stitches several times per class. Although he is a really sweet guy, Mass can sometimes seem arrogant (he once replied "Who cares?" to a particularly long winded and irrelevant question raised by a know-it-all in class), but this arrogance to me is endearing, because he has the intelligence and credibility to back it up. He packs plenty of information into each lecture, but you're not required to remember (or understand) everything. He exams are more of a test of analytical skills and application rather than memorization and rote regurgitation. If you like whip-smart, slightly sassy, extremely intelligent professors, don't hesitate to take a class with him!

Jan 2009

Once in a while, whether by accident or luck, you find one of those classes that confirms that you are paying forty grand a year for something meaningful after all. Not because twenty years from now you'll go to some cocktail party where the host will oh so casually ask you what you think of the classics or because that blue & white seal of approval will look good on that piece of paper you are handed after four years of slaving away as your student loans reach astronomical proportions, but because the class actually helped you become a better writer and thinker. Modern poetry with Prof Mass is one of those classes. While the syllabus is definitely ambitious, I thought it very fair given the inclusive survey nature of the course and the time span covered (early to mid 20th century - a busy time for poets on both sides of the Atlantic). Prof Mass is a wonderful lecturer and always manages to make daunting material approachable. He never claims that his own reading of a text is the ONLY reading, as certain others poetry profs in this department love to do, which is refreshing. Rather, he provides a way of looking at a poem and encourages you to think about what you have read and take it a step further. His comments are informative and layered, paralleling the texts nicely. Like the poems we read, Prof Mass' lectures can be taken on a number of levels. If you love anecdotes, you will get great anecdotes. If you want an analysis of structure and language, he does an amazing job with that. If you're interested in biographical connections, you will get a ton of facts. If you would like to know more about the allusions, he will point out how the poem echoes other poems. Regardless, his readings are always thought-provoking and original. The nice thing with Prof Mass is that tries to provide a bit of everything, something both for the freshmen and the seniors. And he can actually do it. It's not as if he knows a lot about a small range of material, rather he knows a lot about almost everything. He's so well read, you might think he spent a couple of previous lives in Butler. However, he never lords it over you. He seems to know almost instinctively what is appropriate and not appropriate material for a survey course. I don't know why some of the other reviewers thought he was full of himself. To me he seemed very down to earth in his own way, helpful with paper topics, willing to discuss extensions, a great resource for questions regarding secondary material, careful and deliberate in the manner he presented material, and (a miracle!) he actually reads your paper, unlike some of the people who teach surveys. Having taken classes with almost all the faculty in the English department, I can honestly say he's a wonderful professor and not just your average ‘intellectual entertainer.’ Hands down, this class was one of the best I've taken at Columbia. Do yourself a favor and register for it.

Jan 2009

I think this is a great class. Prof Mass is a very knowledgeable guy and he's funny and entertaining. He's pretty full of himself, but he can be because he knows a lot. The T.A's, Lytton Smith and Hiie ___, were equally talented. You read a large survey of poetry so you don't really delve into depth. There is a large focus on Yeats and Eliot. I'd advise this class if you like poetry or want a good intro to English class.

Dec 2008

I took Modern Poetry with high hopes after reading all the glowing CULPA reviews. While my hopes weren't exactly dashed against the rocks, they weren't quite fulfilled either. Prof Mass is quite the character and can be entertaining, but his treatment of the poems was often less than satisfactory. He crammed a ton of poets onto the syllabus. He did acknowledge several times that he was trying to tackle too much but that didn't deter him from trying - to the detriment of the quality of the class. We skimmed over several less well-known poets, but the time probably would've been better spent delving more deeply into major poets. His lectures were also disorganized; he went on a lot of tangents and would sometimes jump from poet to poet (trying to make connections but not always succeeding). Perhaps this style works for some people, but in general, it made it hard for me to appreciate the poems. Of course, his solution to the overly ambitious syllabus was to speak super fast during each lecture, but that ended up being counterproductive because it was then even harder to process the information and take notes. To be fair, Prof Mass did repeat a lot of the major points, and those were what you needed to know for the final, but if you want to get anything more than a boiled-down, bulleted list of characteristics for each poet, then this class probably won't benefit you much (except for the fact that you get to read a ton of pretty cool poetry, but you can do that on your own). Yes, he is intelligent and enthusiastic, and he definitely knows his stuff, but at times, it seems to be more about how much he knows (and who he knows) than about teaching the material.

Dec 2008

Dissenting opinion here. Look, Massimilla's a great guy but to say he's a great teacher one must not have taken many courses in the department. He's enthusiastic, multi-lingual, and has vast stocks of poetry memorized. He'll tell a funny anecdote from time to time, and does a respectable Brando impersonation. That's all very lovable, as his groupies will attest. But his treatments of the modernist poets are very superficial. This is a lecture/survey course, so a degree of generality is to be expected, but Massimilla will either give you the sparknotes reading of a poem or delve into esoterica about it that's occasionally interesting but not very useful. At the end of the course, looking over my notes, I realized that I didn't jot much down, and not for a lack of attention--he just didn't say much worth remembering. That I think sums it up. This is fine for a low-pressure class, but it's very frustrating if you have genuine curiosity about the material. There are far better classes and professors than this in the department. In other words, he's the poetry version of Bruce Robbins, if you know what I mean (pedagogic reputation far exceeds actual worth).

Aug 2004

I regret having taken this class. The material is narrow and limited for a class entitled "Modern Poetry". Though this was intimated in the syllabus Mendelson did not provide the context and richness needed to fully understand the modern movement in poetry. Modern is a movement, part of a progression, not the be-all end-all of poetic expression. Don't ask questions many a person was shamed into silence by asking things which at all challenged Mendelson's views. Go to and order yourself some poetry books; you'll learn more.

May 2004

Although I loved getting credit for reading beautiful poems, the class itself was a struggle. MW at 9:10 am (and he was often late)?? Mendelsohn goes to the front of the room, makes some weird random introduction to the day's lecture (usually by some off the wall analogy like the vegan macrobiotic restaurant one), and then proceeds to meander around for 1:15 about God knows what....? A recurring complaint was that he doesn't focus on any overarching themes, but merely goes line-by-line through selected poems, which besides being boring, does nothing to help you understand the poet's ideas or themes- therefore I had a hard time having anything to use in the paper, or having any information to use when reading non-microanalyzed poems. Also, he tells people to sit up straight and pay attention (at 9 am!! in a 100 person lecture!) He is a nice guy, but the lectures are painful. He reminded us he was tired every day and that he hadn't prepared a lecture - which I don't particularly mind, but we shouldn't be able to TELL that you don't have anything cohesive to say!! the only 3 poets we did were Yeats, Eliot and Auden. Take from that what you will...

May 2004

Mendelson's Modern Poetry class is definetly the worst class I have ever taken at Columbia. Mendelson is a generous grader but he is also extremely dull. It would help if he did not think (as, in my opinio, he does) his students were idiots. He shows a clear disinterest and disregard for esthetics/form. He presents the poems as "windows" into the biographies of the poets.

May 2004

Mendelson's class was an experience in boredom. And frustration. Mendelson would drone out his lectures (when he didn't trail off in the middle of sentences) in a an uninspired manner. Questions were apparently welcome, though if your question wasn't up to his standards you ran the risk of snippy comments instead of answers. Seemed nice otherwise... Seriously, this isn't the class to take if you actually like and read poetry.

May 2004

Mendelson is an interesting character. I can't say I didn't like him as a person. He can come off as gruff and intense to say the least, but in person he is really friendly. I DO NOT recommend him for poetry, especially at 9am. Sure, he's knowlegeable about the poetry (or it seemed like it at lease) but the lectures consist entirely of rambling, almost always incoherent diatribes where he reads huge chunks of the poems, says, "In other words..." says something random, and then asks (demands of) the class, "Are you getting my meaning here?" He harps on the same themes constantly, and by the end of the semester I was still waiting to actually learn something about Auden beyond what I could have gotten by purchasing a copy of his selected works (edited, of course, by Mendelson himself) and reading them on my own. I don't know if all poetry classes leave one feeling this dissatisfied, but this one definitely did. On the other had, the poems were great, and if nothing else I was happy I took the class because I got to read them all.