Title

Food for Thoughts

usc

I've been to USC a zillion times in my lifetime, but until Monday I'd never set foot in the main library. Of course, I was never a student there (I went to UCLA, enough reason not to set foot in USC at all) , but still--the library is the heart of any college campus, and being a writer and avid reader, I'm surprised I wasn't drawn to Doheny Memorial before. I guess I've experienced USC not as an academic institution but as a community business, a hub for panels and discussions about things going on outside the walls of the school, which is political shorthand for things going on in South Central. There's always been tension in the mere fact that a famous, moneyed campus has flourished in the middle of a neighborhood that, to put it mildly, has not. Fairly or not, I've always carried around a certain resentment about the fact that the twain shall never meet, that USC will be at best a benevolent but rarefied force in the 'hood.

But on Monday, those two things did meet, quite powerfully, for a couple of hours. Fourteen student poets from the Animo Film & Theatre Charter High School, a campus near USC at 38th and Broadway, gathered for a reading in an upstairs room in Doheny, a lovely building that's all high ceilings, tiled floors and dark wood, with that hushed, solemn atmosphere particular to libraries that you could almost describe as literary . The students and their parents and supporters had gathered for a final reading of the work the students did this past school year through a program run by PEN Center USA, the writer's organization that, among other things, sends writers into public schools to do semester-long workshops and classes of poetry, nonfiction and other forms of writing (full disclosure: I'm on the PEN board). The culmination of the program is an anthology of student work and a final reading like the one staged at USC. I have to say, I've done PEN in the Classroom before at ground-zero campuses like Jefferson and Locke, and it was often all I could do to get students to read their stuff aloud in the classroom, let alone read it to other people in public.

Reading from their anthology entitled "Provisions," these student poets acquitted themselves admirably. More than that, they inspired. Their invocations and evocations of Anne Sexton, Miles Davis and Van Gogh cast new light on themselves; the largely Latino parents, many armed with cameras, seemed more than slightly awed by the mere sight of the students taking the podium, one by one, and sharing their most intimate thoughts via poetry. Some were a bit too mumbly, others lost their places on the page, but none of that mattered because their words remained. Their words were what filled the venerated space of Doheny and what made them all more than rise to the occasion of USC--a USC I had missed my whole life. Until Monday.

The smell of wet dirt,
The storm must be rising.
Each drop lifts the dust--
At the edge of the watery mud.
The wind disperses
What the water missed.

--From "Watery Mud" by Josh Ramirez

The image above was taken by Flickr user Aaron Jacobs. It was used with the Creative Commons License.

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