2014 Featured Festival Poet: Sharon Olds

Posted on by Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Photo by Marcus Mam, Vogue, September 2012

Through ten collections of poems, Sharon Olds has turned an unflinching eye toward the ecstasies and sorrows of living in the human body. Every stage of life is meticulously observed and explored: childhood, adolescence and the awakening of sexuality, marriage, the birthing of children, divorce, the caretaking of aging parents, their deaths, and the confronting of ones own mortality.

Listen to her read one of her first odes, “Poem for the Breasts,” which appeared in her Pulitzer and T.S. Eliot prize winning collection, Stag’s Leap, and “Ode to the Hymen” at the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival.

What’s immediately is obvious is that although a sharp observer, Olds has never allowed the intensity of her looking to dull her capacity for empathy. The husband who leaves her after a long marriage is not subjected to the bitterness or resentment one might expect, but observed with tenderness and compassion. Throughout her work, even describing acts of human cruelty, whether those of political leaders or of her own parents, her capacity to search for understanding compels the reader to continue through revelations that, otherwise, might be unbearable.

In “Poem for the Breasts” and “Ode to the Hymen,” as in many of Olds’ poems, attention to physical detail is the act of cherishing the world and the body in our brief moment of corporeality. Acknowledging the frailty of the body is part of this cherishing. In “Little Things,” an early poem, Olds writes, “I am/ paying attention to small beauties,/ whatever I have—as if it were our duty to/ find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.”

While many of us might allow fear and shame to censor what we are willing to discover or reveal, Olds refuses to be so limited. It is as if for her fear and shame are absolutely reliable signals: Something is hidden behind them that we must explore if we are ever to understand our true selves. The deeper the fear or shame, the more tenaciously she will insist on exploring further.

So it is no surprise that Olds should be inspired by Neruda to write odes on such elemental subjects. Her odes, like all her poems, are unrelentingly inquisitive and tender. What may surprise some of her readers is her great sense of humor and obvious delight in sharing it.

Sharon Olds’ most recent collections are One Secret Thing and Stags Leap.  For a generous selection of poems from her earlier collections, see Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002.


We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,

visit our website dodgepoetry.org

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2014 Featured Festival Poet: Rachel McKibbens

Posted on by Victoria Russell, Festival Assistant
Photo courtesy of rachelmckibbens.com

Rachel McKibbens’s poetry feels like a product of dark magic–not meaning it is evil or bad, but rather a miracle arisen from misery. McKibbens is a phoenix, proud and resplendent amongst her ashes. She starts with darkness: pain, shame, abuse, violence, regret, neglect, longing, and then: BAM. She waves her magic wand, calls upon the forces of metaphor, and as the cloud of smoke dissipates, we begin to see a beautiful, shimmering crystal: a poem. Magic. Watch her performance of “For M” to see for yourself:

McKibbens’s past is the type that demands some sort of creation be born from it. Her history of childhood abuse and neglect, of violence and misogyny, and her ongoing struggle with mental illness, have given her two options: crumble, or create. McKibbens has chosen the latter, diving fearlessly into the task of crafting art from suffering. Her poetry is not for the faint of heart. With proudly immodest honesty and grit, she juts out her chin, balls her fist around a pen, and slashes at the paper until she has exorcised her ghosts–for the moment. In her first book of poems, Pink Elephant, she addresses her absent mother in “Weather’s Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”:

That’s the year I lost my appetite then found it
in men disguised as getaway cars. Sometimes a tingling sensation
sweeps across my face like an amputee’s phantom itch,
and I realize how much I miss the back of your hand.

McKibbens is a master slam poet. She is a powerful performer who knows how to work a crowd however she wants, like a charismatic magician alternately cracking jokes and provoking gasps. There is a time and place for every trick up her sleeve: a time to accuse and to confess, a time to draw laughter and to draw tears, a time to project to the back of the hall and to whisper into the microphone, a time to strut and a time to sob.

She commands. She interrogates. She also admits and implores. She never sounds stronger than when the cracks begin to show, and her raspy voice trembles like an old bridge buckling under a train. In those moments of raw tenderness and pain, she calls upon her strongest magic: her vulnerability. She crumbles into ashes, bursts into flame, then soars.


We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org

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2014 Featured Festival Poet: Anis Mojgani

Posted on by Michele Russo, Poetry Coordinator
Photo by Jered Scott

Anis Mogjani is a contagious poet.  His poems make you want to fall in love with the world all over again.  To look at the world with fresh eyes, to wonder and to marvel.  His combination of optimism and surrealism create little electric jolts that jostle us out of the logical sense-making mind.  Rich imagery, open-heartedness and a complete lack of $1,000 words make it possible for the reader to immediately jump into the poems.  And when he performs, Anis Mogjani’s warmth and affection welcomes the audience into the poems—you don’t feel you’re being performed “at” but rather you are invited into a friendship.  As he is revealing something of himself in the poems, he asks you to look inside yourself to find what needs revealing, perhaps what’s been hidden for too long.

Take a few moments to watch him perform “Sock Hop”.

SOCK HOP by Anis Mojgani from micah on Vimeo.

The word “joy” comes to mind as I read and watch Mogjani.  The word “child-like” comes up in nearly every blurb or commentary about his work or readings.  And it’s certainly true—his work is playful and sweet.  Some poems deal with childhood narratives.   And when his poems take a heavier tone—which they do–they are still grounded in beautiful and simple images.  These potent and frequent images shock the mind for a moment and propel the poems through their emotional landscapes. We feel we are being carried through the poems, their vulnerability inspiring our own heart-opening.

from after the birds


the sun is mine

it is an orange

I grew it

I grow it every morning

slice it into quarters

drink its blood

I fill up on it

I sit up late

surrounded by the song of toads

they make love in the pond

my house is wood

I am always working on it

hammering a windowsill

placing a ladder against it

I am surrounded by paint buckets

my house was once painted white

but now it is a whale of a home

skin peeling

brown bones peeking through in the day light

and whispering in the wind of the night

To find more videos and links to Anis Mogjani’s work, see his website, where you can also find some of his drawings and artwork, which again display his delightful imaginative talent.


We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org

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Long Reads, Short Attention Spans

Posted on by Debbie Galant, Center for Cooperative Media

Like many people, I’m constantly scanning Twitter and Facebook for news. I have an altogether unhealthy relationship with my phone. My fingers rush across the screen with an urgency that should be reserved for protecting the homeland from incoming missiles. As if clicking on links and deciding whether to retweet them was a matter of life and death.

Debbie Galant

If you spend a lot of time on Twitter, you’ll be the first to know when a big star dies. You’ll be the first to say, “Oh no, James Gandolfini,” or “Oh no, Philip Seymour Hoffman,” or “Oh no, Robin Williams.” (Although in my household, it was my Facebook-facing 25-year-old who first saw the news about Williams.)

There’s that momentary euphoria of knowing something first. But being a Twitter news addict ultimately means that by the end of each day, all the news is a blur and you’ve got a knot in the back of your neck from playing ping pong with your brain.

And then, every once in a while, you pick up a New Yorker that’s been sitting in your bathroom for months and find yourself into a wholly compelling narrative that goes on for pages.

One night last week — a week dominated by endless ice bucket challenges, unrest in Ferguson and the barbaric execution of James Foley — two very long stories arrested my attention. The first one, in GQ, was about a hermit who lived for almost 30 years in central Maine with no human contact. The other, in The New Yorker, was about a woman who discovered that the man who had deserted her and their baby 25 years earlier was in fact a spy.

Each took half an hour or more to read, about the same time it takes for a story to unwind on Ira Glass’s “This American Life.”

Narratives that span decades don’t fit neatly into the category of news, especially when they are about hermits or spurned lovers, or the kind of non-newsworthy people who generally wind up on “This American Life.” They don’t tell us so much as about the current moment as they tell us about our times.

People have been talking for years about the emergence of a “slow news” movement —drawing on the rhetoric of the “slow food” movement — but the idea is largely about taking the time, in the “24-hour news cycle,” to get things right. Long reads, epitomized by this site, is a related, but different, concept — and in my opinion a closer analogy to slow food. It’s not just about slowing down so you don’t get burnt by the frying pan. It’s about slowing down enough to actually taste something.

In an era of diminishing attention spans, stories that run 7,000 to 8,000 words, like the ones I read last week, or “Schooled,” Dale Russakoff’s 11,742-word opus on the Newark schools controversy, which appeared in the May issue of The New Yorker, are an endangered species.

It took me almost a month — and a trip to Virginia — to find an afternoon to read Russakoff’s piece. But the beauty of a story so well laid out and painstakingly researched is that it was just as relevant in June as it had been in May. Indeed, it’s still relevant now.

I will leave it to the neuroscientists to figure out how to restore our attention spans and I’ll set aside, for the moment, the question of how to pay for the time that goes into creating long quality pieces of journalism.

I simply commend to you the concept of digging into some really long reads. There’s one more week of summer. Plenty of time to pull away from Twitter for an hour or two, and find something really juicy to sink your brain into. Then come back and tell us what you read.

Debbie Galant is associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State. She also writes essays on Medium.

Above photo is courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons/Michael Cory

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2014 Featured Festival Poet: Alex Lemon

Posted on by Rebecca Gambale, Online Communications Coordinator

My life, I drop

Quarters in
The slot

& select
The worst

Song on
The jukebox

& then sneak
Out to

Through the rain-

Streaked glass.

excerpt from “All of the Made Roads” in Fancy Beasts

There is something visceral, and a little bit mischievous, about Alex Lemon’s poems. They’re always unmistakably set in life right now, right here, standing in wonder of the world, for all that is good and all that is terrifying. Like he’s lucky to be alive. And well, he is.

In his memoir Happy, Lemon tells of his first year of college, when he was the fun-loving, gregarious guy on campus, always with a smile and a beer and a girl. Then, he had his first stroke. Due to a physical malformation in his brain stem, Lemon suffered 2 brain bleeds, followed by what he describes as “self-destructive behavior and severe depression.”

This somber history, it seems, has been the darkness that makes colors shine a bit more brightly in a Lemon poem, makes the words a more electric on the page. He’s going to give you a workout with his energized images, sometimes bending grammar and structure to his will. He’s going to make you laugh, too, with his unapologetic take on modern life and unflinching honesty. And at the heart of it all, there is a return to a deep happiness and gratitude, and sense of awe:

“…what a sacrifice

It is each day just to get by, this alchemy,

This fevered life: illness & love,

Lockjaw & slow motion kidnappings –it is what

It always is—chronic dying, shivering with

Unbelievable joy & not knowing a damn thing

About anything as lightning

Jigsaws the horizon.”

from “I Knew You Before You Were” from The Wish Book

Many of the poems in Lemon’s new book The Wish Book are about this wonder as he brings his son into the world, being a father and the terror and thrill of the world around his son. But, in an interview, Lemon laughs and gets to the heart of the matter: “It’s pretty fantastic to be alive, no matter who you are. You think you live a boring life…nothing’s boring. My mom always told me that. If you’re bored, it’s because YOU’RE boring. ‘Cuz the world’s not boring at all.” And the world of Lemon’s poems is even less boring than that.

We look forward to welcoming Alex Lemon to the stages of the Dodge Poetry Festival this fall.


We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org

- See more at: http://blog.grdodge.org/2014/08/22/2014-featured-festival-poet-shara-mccallum/#sthash.9iOaHObG.dpuf

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