The stars all aligned for the Magic Poetry Bus on the evening of March 1 to the delight of an appreciative audience in the Davidson Center. The Get Lit troupe, poets, professors and celebrities altogether reveled in the language of poetry -- both original and canonical.
In an official 2008 announcement of Carol Muske-Dukes’s appointment as California Poet Laureate, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that she would be expected to create a statewide poetry project to communities throughout the state. The project turned out to be The Magic Poetry Bus (now The Magic Poetry Bus/Get Lit following a merger earlier this year).
Introductions were given by Howard Gillman, dean of the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences and Meg Russett, chair of the English department. Gillman, an avid reader and great appreciator of poetry and prose, spoke of the College’s role in keeping the flame of poetry alive in the world. He also read a few lines from a poem titled “Report,” by one of his favorite poets Czeslaw Milosz.
In her introduction, Russett lauded a popular class led by Aimee Bender and Cecilia Woloch called The Writer in the Community that has made a profound difference in the lives of children in the USC neighborhoods. She said that she was proud to be part of a department of writers who are dedicated citizens of the Southern California community.
The Magic Poetry Bus is not a real bus, rather a virtual bus. You could call the Magic Poetry Bus “the Imagination,” according to California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes. The night was magical in the sense of the extraordinarily moving performance of the Get Lit troupe, a small close-knit teen group who perform their original works of poetry and great poems by the masters to kids in Los Angeles and other major cities.
“Get Lit players are young inner city poets who are doing something that no other hip hop artists or spoken word group is doing,” Muske-Dukes said. “They learn great poems by heart like my mother did way back — they commit them to memory, they recite them and then add their own spoken words —it’s proactive poetry."
The Get Lit group recited the poem “The Shirt” by renowned poet Robert Pinsky. “It’s a meditation on a garment — how it is made and the history of shirt making but so much more,” Muske-Dukes explained.
Get Lit player Monique Mitchell’s response to the “Shirt” began with a reference to a corporation who uses sports champions for endorsements: “The emblem is what made this [the shirt], I am who supported it. The calluses, the bruises, the bloody hand — theirs from stitching, mine from spiking.”
The talented Get Lit players who performed are Ryan Jafar, Monique Mitchell, Dario Serrano and Briauna Taylor. The team is led by Get Lit Executive Director and founder of Get Lit/Words Ignite! Diane Luby Lane and Artistic Director, Azure Antoinette.
Exquisitely read poetry by USC College faculty Cecilia Woloch, Dana Goodyear and Muske-Dukes; poets Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Tom Healy; and special guests Stacy Keach and George Wendt, made for an evening of entertainment and an homage to words well spent.
Wendt gave a brilliant reading of “Marginalia,” a Billy Collins poem. Keach gave a touching reading of Muske-Dukes' poem “Ovation” from her book Sparrow, which was written in memory of her late husband actor David Dukes.
Muske-Dukes, professor of English and creative writing, was the founding director of the Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing program in the College.
The event was a fundraiser for The Magic Poetry Bus. “We are raising funds to publish and distribute the Magic Poetry Bus Driver’s Guide (a handbook to the reading and writing of poetry), free to all California public schools,” Muske-Dukes said. If interested in contributing to this effort, please visit getlit.org.
For more information on The Magic Poetry Bus/Get Lit, visit magicpoetrybus.org.