A lone speaker stood reading poetry off their phone in front of people scattered around the dim Russell Underground. The room sat silent in attention as the person spoke their verses aloud, only snapping in applause once the speaker finished their poem. Another volunteer eagerly lined up to share their own prose in front of the attendees of Popcorn & Poetry, an event courtesy of UniVERSE.
Interim President Pastides' wife Patricia Moore-Pastides created a new poetry initiative titled UniVERSE, which organizes campus events where USC students, staff and faculty can gather to read, listen to and write poetry.
UniVERSE was born out of Moore-Pastides' early passion for poetry, which she attributed to her literary education in elementary and middle school.
“It just always grabbed me that you could have so much input with so few words, you know, that you could create a whole image without having to write a paragraph," Moore-Pastides said. "So that was probably the beginning, and I always loved it.”
According to Moore-Pastides, the purpose of the campus-wide poetry initiative is to bring the USC community closer together after the separation from the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasingly negative political discourse in the country.
UniVERSE organizes poetry reading events, where students, faculty and staff can read aloud and listen to poems from well-known poets, or share verses penned by the speakers themselves.
Pop-up poetry events are held by the initiative around campus, including Popcorn & Poetry in the Russell Underground. The event is framed for anyone, not just people with experience in poetry.
Director of the Museum of Education and Interim Associate Dean of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the USC graduate school, Dr. Toby Jenkins-Henry, said that poetry as an art form is open and flexible to all.
“Poetry has always been kind of a core of any type of cultural strategic plan that I have for a cultural inclusion … because I think it is so universal, across so many populations and people that they can all share,” said Jenkins-Henry.
Second-year english student Claire Ellis read a poem she wrote in front of a group of over a dozen people during Wednesday’s Popcorn & Poetry event. Even though she has self-confessed stage fright, she said the UniVERSE events allowed her to face her personal fears while learning about poetry from others.
“It definitely helps to see what else you can do with poetry, and it’s just kind of like a learning experience to see what other people are doing and how you can incorporate some things that they’re doing into your own work,” Ellis said.
Though interim university president Harris Pastides' leadership of USC will be ending due to to USC's election of a new president, Interim First Lady Moore-Pastides plans on still being involved with UniVERSE, as she will remain as an adjunct professor of USC next year.
Other plans for the initiative include getting students to submit poems to the UniVERSE website, which would be displayed on the webpage and on tented papers around dining halls. UniVERSE also invited interested students to become poetry ambassadors, who would organize poetry activities or workshops around campus.
The initiative plans to highlight poetry through musical and visual mediums as well. A photography art exhibition opening later this spring in the Museum of Education called "Do They See Us?" represents teachers' experience in the pandemic. The exhibition will be accompanied by poetry readings during a UniVERSE event.
UniVERSE's mission is encapsulated by its title, according to Moore-Pastides, as the name captures the initiative's focus on uplifting poetry for all on USC's campus.
"I wanted everybody to feel like they could join," said Moore-Pastides. "I feel like it's a success."