Even Carl Sandburg admitted, “I’ve written some poetry I don't understand myself.”
This winter, members of the USC community may gather more insight into poetry by attending four free events hosted by USC College during roughly four weeks, beginning Jan. 31 with Dancing the Poem, a Visions and Voices performance to be held in the Grand Ballroom of Ronald Tutor Campus Center at 7 p.m.
A great poem dances on the page; this event will translate the choreography of imagination into reality in a performance merging poetry and dance. The Get Lit Players — teenage poets from Los Angeles — and USC dancers led by USC dance director Margo Apostolos will enact and dance traditional and spoken-word poems. Poems by contemporary poets, including Joy Harjo, Robert Pinsky and others, will be read aloud by California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, then interpreted by the Get Lit Players and USC dancers in a variety of styles, including jazz, tap, modern and hip hop. The performance will be followed by a discussion.
“Poetry is an art made of words: the everyday words we speak are the paint and clay and dancing forms of this paradise fire of language,” said Muske-Dukes, professor of English and creative writing in the College. “A poem has its own powerful existence. As Archibald MacLeish said: ‘A poem should not mean, but be.’ Poetry is there for us — at all the most profound moments of our lives. If we cannot express ourselves in poetry we lose thought, inspiration, consciousness of beauty and compassion itself.”
In another event, the Department of English is hosting its annual poetry reading Feb. 16 at Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240. This year welcomes W.S. Merwin, America’s 17th poet laureate, the winner of two Pulitzers in poetry, and Boudreaux Visiting Poet in the College this academic year. Merwin will read his poetry from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., then sign books.
On Feb. 28 at 7 p.m., former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins will read from his work and chat with Muske-Dukes at the Bovard Auditorium. Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, and New York poet laureate from 2004 to 2006, is the author of nine collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many periodicals, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review and The American Scholar. His last three collections of poems have broken sales records for poetry. Collins is a distinguished professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York.
Following a reading of his work, Collins will converse with Muske-Dukes on the art, craft and foibles of writing poetry. A reception and book signing will end the event.
Words in Your Face: Poetry, Performance and Politics, is a Visions and Voices event taking place at 6:30 p.m., March 3 at the Bovard Auditorium. The event includes performances by internationally-recognized, spoken-word poets and poetry slam champions. Shihan, Mayda del Valle, Gina Loring and Rudy Francisco will take the stage, with a soundtrack provided by Los Angeles–based DJ Brutha Gimel.
After the performances, a discussion will explore the role of the arts and artists in politics, education, community building and the public sphere. The event is being organized by Javon Johnson of the College’s American studies and ethnicity department and co-sponsored by the USC Political Student Assembly.