The Hermit Poet

April 3, 2007

Yesterday’s Wanderings – A USC Experience

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 9:10 am

I must say that my experiences at USC yesterday and Sunday night have been phenomenal (although I missed the opportunity to sit in on the class on Phenomenology!). There has been good chemistry so far with the prospective graduate students I’ve met — they all strike me as exceptionally sharp and insightful people. A certain of brilliance should be expected I guess — this is after all a gathering of the top PhD applicants at one of the best programs in the US. I found myself very happily in conversation with both lit crit and creative writing people, all of whom had interesting projects and fields of study. This for me bodes well — I’m excited to be immersed again in a culture of learning and intellectual dialogue.

The creative writing cohort of prospectives (myself and one other poet and 3 fiction writers) have bonded rather spectacularly. Who could have expected, for instance, that out of the five of us, three of us have lived in the Middle East! It turns out that I’m not so unique either with my computer science and creative writing combination — one of the fiction writers also did his undergraduate work in CS before switching gears. The other poet has also founded a literary journal at her university. All of us have been globetrotters at some point, living in a wide variety of places around the world.

As for the day, it was long.

I woke up around 8 am, went for a morning walk in the neighborhood, and returned by 10 am for the initial gathering. We embarked on a walking tour of campus, touring various buildings and sights before stopping for lunch at one of the on-campus banquet spots. At this location various professors were present, so we had opportunities to meet some of the faculty and eat with them while discussing the program. At our table (the creative writing band) were Mark Irwin and Sarah McCabe, both of whom were quite helpful in answering our questions and addressing any concerns we had. Ava Chin, a successful graduate of the program, was visiting from Brooklyn and answered some of our questions about the post-PhD job market.

After lunch, we turned back to the English department and sat in on a couple of classes — we (again, the creative band) had a wonderful time in Percival Everett’s fiction workshop (it seemed to be about challenging the conventional form of the novel) and also attended Carol Muske-Dukes’ poetry workshop which was amazing. If anything, the poetry workshop was the deal-maker for most of us. The class was mostly 3rd year students with book length manuscripts — only one poet workshopped a session, but an entire manuscript was discussed using particular poems as the reference points. The level of discussion from the students and from Carol Muske-Dukes reflected both a deep understanding of craft of poetry and an intimate connection with theory — a good, non-pretentious pairing which made for a very rich and rewarding discussion.

After the classes, we met up for dinner with the rest of the prospective PhDs. This time the dinner was held at El Cholo, a Mexican restaurant not too far away. Graduate students hosted with no faculty around. Again we plied our questions and sought out advice on housing and living in the area. After dinner, we moved on to the Library Bar to meet up with even more current students — however, the car I was in ended up on an hour-long tour of the Los Angeles area — very useful for the two other prospectives who had never lived in LA before. So we enjoyed a rather comprehensive tour of the areas which was supplemented by wry commentary in a dead pan voice by our chauffeur, a lit crit PhD come by way of Philosophy and Rhetoric. When we arrived at the Library Bar, most of the prospective students had already returned to the hotel, but we did find some remaining graduate students and conversed with them. At some point we too were tired and found someone to give us a lift back to he hotel.

Today looks to be more open in terms of schedule — we don’t have a set agenda and only have a lunch event for certain. We have been invited to attend a class this afternoon. Other than those two things, the day is free — we are encouraged to check out various parts of campus on our own.

Sidenote: Throughout this trip, I’ve been surprised by how dry the weather has been — not so much by the lack of precipitation, but by the havoc it’s been playing on my skin. I seem to be using a lot of lotion to keep my skin from completely drying out. From what I hear it’s not just me — the weather has been unusually dry and others have the same problem.

4 Responses to “Yesterday’s Wanderings – A USC Experience”

  1. Oliver de la Paz Says:

    Lucky ducky! Susan McCabe was one of my professors at ASU. She’s fantastic!

  2. Robert Says:

    How great! I used to live pretty close to the USC campus. Great school in a crazy neighborhood. Will be interested to see how your PhD hunt turns out. Wishing you much success.

  3. Ava Chin Says:

    Glad your experience was positive. Word to the wise re: where to live–do not move close to campus under the assumption that it’s good to walk/bike to school. From what I’ve seen, the most successful grad students lived elsewhere. If you stay on the eastside: Los Feliz, Silverlake, & Echo Park are all good. Good luck!

  4. jessica piazza Says:

    you know, i just found your blog because i was googling the program to find out some random info! funny.

    what you forgot to mention, however, was how wonderful, talented and hilarious i was, in particular, during this little visit of yours. shame on you for neglecting these important details!


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