The Difference Is Spreading

Fifty Contemporary Poets on Fifty Poems

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
Pub Date 29 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 08 Apr 2022

Talking about this book? Use #TheDifferenceIsSpreading #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


Since its inception in 2012, the hugely successful online introduction to modern poetry known as ModPo has engaged some 415,000 readers, listeners, teachers, and poets with its focus on a modern and contemporary American tradition that runs from Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson up to some of today's freshest and most experimental written and spoken verse. In The Difference Is Spreading, ModPo's Al Filreis and Anna Strong Safford have handed the microphone over to the poets themselves, by inviting fifty of them to select and comment upon a poem by another writer.

The approaches taken are various, confirming that there are as many ways for a poet to write about someone else's poem as there are poet-poem matches in this volume. Yet a straight-through reading of the fifty poems anthologized here, along with the fifty responses to them, emphatically demonstrates the importance to poetry of community, of socioaesthetic networks and lines of connection, and of expressions of affection and honor due to one's innovative colleagues and predecessors. Through the curation of these selections, Filreis and Safford express their belief that the poems that are most challenging and most dynamic are those that are open—the writings, that is, that ask their readers to participate in making their meaning. Poetry happens when a reader and a poet come in contact with one another, when the reader, whether celebrated poet or novice, is invited to do interpretive work—for without that convergence, poetry is inert.

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is also Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, publisher of Jacket2 magazine, and co-director of PennSound. He is the creator and lead teacher of the open online course on modern and contemporary poetry, ModPo. His most recent book is 1960: When Art and Literature Confronted the Memory of World War II and Remade the Modern.

Anna Strong Safford is an instructor and curriculum specialist at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Liberal and Professional Studies and is the Course Coordinator for ModPo. She has taught at Temple University, the Community College of Philadelphia, and Boston College, and her poems and essays can be found in Supplement, Cleaver, and other publications.

Since its inception in 2012, the hugely successful online introduction to modern poetry known as ModPo has engaged some 415,000 readers, listeners, teachers, and poets with its focus on a modern and...

Advance Praise

"I'm delighted to see, and to have participated in, this collective meditation of artists talking about artists. The creative community thrives when we consider one another and support each other. This anthology affirms the seriousness, care, and fun we have when we sincerely consider our legacies, currents, and futures together. Thanks to Al Filreis and Anna Strong for organizing this paginated, welcoming dinner party."
—Tracie Morris

"Poets writing on reading writing: it is thus that in this volume its contributors give evidence of the truth of the last sentence of the first poem of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons which is also the title of this book: 'The difference is spreading.' The result as it unfolds here is intertextual abundance, a compilation of poetics, invention, engagement, criticism, and play, all corresponding to a reading practice committed to the proposition that every poem matters and that, until it is read for the very last time, no poem is over."
—Lyn Hejinian

"Everybody talks about making poetry accessible, but The Difference Is Spreading does it in an entirely unexpectable way, with elucidating short discussions of fifty poems by fifty quirky, eccentric, brilliant, amiable, engaged poets."
—Charles Bernstein

"A paradisiacal gathering of deep dives, devotionals, plus a sub or two, The Difference Is Spreading offers us one hundred luminous invitations to read together."
—Douglas Kearney

"I'm delighted to see, and to have participated in, this collective meditation of artists talking about artists. The creative community thrives when we consider one another and support each other...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780812253238
PRICE $29.95 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send to Kindle (PDF)
Download (PDF)

Average rating from 6 members

Featured Reviews

This is a very academic book that accompanies that popular free online ModPo course on poetry. Each poem is discussed by a modern poet. I wasn't a big fan of many of the poems and the discussions were often very intellectual and focused quite a bit on the mechanics of the poems. I did find a few new favorite poems and poets and I did enjoy some of the essays, while others weren't very interesting to me. It is written for a college level course and very much feels like it, for the good and bad. You'll learn a lot about reading poetry, but not necessarily as much about feeling poetry. Still a great resource and quite interesting at times.

I read a temporary digital ARC of this book for review.

Was this review helpful?

The Difference Is Spreading: Fifty Contemporary Poets on Fifty Poems, edited by Al Filreis and Anna Strong Safford, is a collection of 50 poems accompanied by a short essay each from a contemporary poet. These essays show that there are many ways into each poem.

This is inspired by the Modern Poetry (ModPo) MOOC that uses a discussion and close reading of various poems to make poetry more accessible to more readers. Though each poem here is accompanied by just one essay it by no means implies that that interpretation or understanding is the only or the "right" one. In fact, several of the poets make clear that there are other readings but they are giving theirs.

I took the first iteration of the MOOC and have been in and out of each one since. Even with English being one of my undergraduate degrees my focus was never poetry, so the course and this book are welcome opportunities for me to learn different ways into a poem. Because these essays are by poets there is a fair amount of looking at structure and word choice. I don't consider it so much academic as I consider it something more than simply what a quick reading made me feel. That certainly has value but I gain so much more when I come to understand how and why a poem moved me. Or when I gain a different perspective on a poem from the one I already have. Having more than one way into it is only beneficial, they aren't in competition.

I would highly recommend both this book and the MOOC for anyone who would like to learn different ways to appreciate and understand poetry. If you feel limited because there is only one essay per poem here and thus just one avenue into it, try to think of it as someone showing you how they came to understand it rather than them telling you that you must understand it the same way. That isn't their purpose, they are trying to help open poetry up not close it in. Though I will admit that it is much more readily apparent in the MOOC since everyone's voice is heard and valued.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

Was this review helpful?

This is a book that talks about different classical poems which are analyzed by different contemporary poets. The poets have gone serious in their description and have analyzed almost all the aspects of the poems. The critical analysis was something to read and being a literature major, I enjoyed it all immensely.

The writing style of the book varies as there are so many different authors. Despite it being a compilation of so many authors, the work didn’t feel bulky or crowded. There was enough breathing space with long and short pieces balanced properly by the curator.

Most of the authors that were analyzed in the series were known to me but most of the poems that were analyzed were new to me. It felt great to read more insights into the poems that I haven’t read beforehand. I had a fun time reading the poem, then analyzing them for myself, then reading the analysis of the contemporary poet. It improved my understanding of poetry and helped me become a better reader.

This book began from the syllabus of the online course called ModPo hosted by Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Most of the books here have been covered in this course and have commentary from the poets who discussed it in the course. The community that emerged as the result of the ModPo courses is what inspired the compilation of this book. it is something that is representative of the community that likes to talk about poetry, to discuss several genres of poetry, style of poetry writing, language changes, criticism, and many other factors related to literature.

The reader’s engagement while reading poetry is what is the objective of this book. The close reading of the poetry while enjoying it and discussing it with others give the words a different type of meaning. This book makes it easier for readers to indulge in poetry and its close reading. The support of the contemporary poets adds to the understanding of an individual and makes the reading experience better.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. If you are into classics and classic poetry, then you should pick this up. If you are a literature student who wishes to understand the art of critical analysis in depth, then this might be something that you would enjoy and be enriched with.

Note – This was an e-ARC copy provided to me by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange of an honest review. All the thoughts are my own and honest representation of my experience.

Was this review helpful?

This was quite different than what I expected, but I really did enjoy it. The Difference is Spreading is a book where poets write on other famous poems, helping others to understand them at a deeper level. This collection is perfect for people who love poetry, but need some help comprehending!

Was this review helpful?

The Difference is Spreading: Fifty Contemporary Poets on Fifty Poems is a volume edited by Al Filreis and Anna Strong Safford, inspired by the Modern Poetry (ModPo) MOOC, a popular free online course in the appreciation of modern and contemporary poetry, focusing on the American tradition. The concept of getting fifty poets to comment on fifty works of other poets underlines the fact that the interpretation of a work of literature is in itself a creative enterprise. This is particularly true of poetry which, as a form, often tends to rely on symbols and metaphors pregnant with personal meaning. As a book this feels quite academic, with the critiques of the poems often delving into the formal techniques used in the chosen pieces. Yet this never eschews the sense of a “personal” reading. This is an eye-opening, mind-expanding book, whether for students of poetry, lovers of the genre or readers who would like to explore beyond narrative and prose.

Was this review helpful?

Contemporary commentary on poems old and new. At first I was surprised at the age of some of the included poems, but it is a nice variety and will be great for students or individuals.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: