Posted on by Dodge

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smithWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s chat with Aaron Smith!


Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Poems I’ve written have scared me, and I’ve been nervous about sharing them, but never enough that I didn’t share them eventually. Also, as I’ve gotten older, I worry less about people’s reactions to poems that might deal with difficult or uncomfortable ideas. Now, I actually feel like I’m doing something right if a poem makes me nervous. I must be in an interesting space. I’ve found, too, that when I’ve taken risks and shared work that makes me uncomfortable, the response is usually positive. People often say those poems spoke to them in a meaningful way. When I find myself getting nervous, I go back to a quote by the poet Lucille Clifton: “You cannot play for safety and make art.”

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem?
As a poet, I hope I’m the one who “solves” the poem before the reader gets to it. I’m drawn to writing about things I don’t understand or to things I want to understand better, so working to understand is what drives the making of a poem for me. I value “clarity,” though that’s not necessarily the same thing as “accessibility.” Whether or not a poem is “accessible” is probably determined by 1) how well I write it and 2) a reader’s willingness to engage all their senses with what’s on the page. I’m definitely not a fan of the notion that a poet should deliberately leave out information to make a poem more challenging. When my students do that, the poems fail.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
I don’t like the belief that all poets love language. Since I’m interested in making meaning, I find language useful, and I like to see what I can get language to do, but I don’t love it as an end. Language can actually be a frustrating obstacle. I do find it satisfying working with words to figure out how best to say what I want to say, but I don’t walk around saying words in my head over and over because I love them. I also think some writers hide behind language so they don’t have to take any risks with content or with being vulnerable. I get bored with beautifully written poems that sound good but don’t illuminate anything. Worshipping at the altar of language can be as much about the writer hiding as it can be about opening space and communicating something.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
I’m fortunate because I write better when I’m busy and distracted. Teaching gives me a more flexible schedule, but a decade before I started teaching, I worked desk jobs, so if I didn’t make writing part of the mess of my day to day, then I wouldn’t be a writer. I’ve written poems on subways, at meetings, on scraps of paper while running errands. I didn’t own a computer when I wrote my first book: I wrote my poems by hand and then stayed late at the place I was working to type and print. I think if you value something, you figure out how to do it and make time for it. You make time to brush your teeth every day because it’s important. If poetry is important, you make time for it.

What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?
In a century where everything moves quickly, poetry reminds me to engage deeply, to linger with text to discover everything it has to offer. Having spent most of my life looking for the right word, the right line break, I’ve learned the importance of how what we say matters and lives inside people. Poetry is the opposite of sound bites, tweets, and talking points. I believe when we spend time engaging deeply with words and ideas that we are studying compassion. If we need anything in the twenty first century, it’s compassion.

Aaron Smith is the author of three books published by the Pitt Poetry series; his most recent book is Primer (2016). His first book, Blue on Blue Ground (2005), won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards. His second book, Appetite (2012), was named an NPR Best Book and was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Publishing Triangle’s Thom Gunn Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. His chapbooks are Men in Groups and What’s Required, winner of the Frank O’Hara Award. A 2007 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts, his work has appeared in numerous publications including: Copper Nickel, LIT, The Literary Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2013. He is assistant professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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Pro Bono Partnership Pundit: Is Spinning Just Perspiring on a Bike?

Posted on by Kent E. Hansen, Pro Bono Partnership

Photo by Elliot Hill/Creative Commons

I walked past the event calendar in my gym recently and was momentarily surprised to find that there are actually classes that teach spinning.

Who knew? I did regain focus when I saw all those bicycle riders going nowhere. Often during any election season, and perhaps particularly this one, my thoughts turn to a different form of spinning.

Perhaps the prevalence of spin being applied to significant issues is a reminder to us all of the need to be involved in the public discourse on issues of importance to us. It can be critical for nonprofits to express their positions on issues that may have an effect on the nonprofit sector and on their individual missions.

The good news is that 501(c)(3) nonprofits are permitted to engage in a limited amount of lobbying and in educational efforts on public policy matters.

This post will describe what types of activities are regarded as lobbying by the IRS and, hopefully, serve as a catalyst for nonprofits to look carefully at their activities and seek advice, as necessary, to keep any lobbying activities within permissible limits.

An organization can’t qualify for 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation, or lobbying.

There are two tests for lobbying. The substantial part test focuses on lobbying activities while a test under Internal Revenue Code §501(h) focuses on expenditures for lobbying activities. Nonprofits must make an election to have their activities measured by the 501(h) expenditure test.

Activities Test

Under the activities test, a nonprofit’s activities (by employees or volunteers) to contact, or urge the public to contact, members of a legislative body to propose, support, or oppose legislation will be regarded as lobbying activities.

Examples include:

  • Sending letters to government officials or legislators;
  • Meeting with or calling government officials or legislators;
  • Sending or distributing letters or publications to members or the general public;
  • Using direct mail, advertisements, or press releases; and
  • Holding rallies and demonstrations.

There is no objective definition of what is a “substantial part” of a nonprofit’s activities, which can make it difficult for a nonprofit to implement lobbying activities with a high comfort level that it is in compliance with the test.

Expenditure Test

Under the 501(h) expenditure test, lobbying expenditures comprise expenditures for direct lobbying and grassroots lobbying activities and include overhead and administrative expense allocable to those activities. The test establishes the permissible amount of a nonprofit’s lobbying expenditures based upon percentages of its total expenditures for exempt purposes.

Lobbying expenditures are expenditures made for the purpose of attempting to influence legislation through:

  • Communication with a member or employee of a legislative or similar body or with a government official or employee or with the general public in a referendum initiative or similar procedure (direct lobbying), and
  • Communications that attempt to affect the opinions of the general public or a part of the general public (grassroots lobbying).

Direct communication with a legislator or government official is treated as lobbying if the communication refers to specific legislation and reflects a view on such legislation.

A communication to the general public or a part of the general public will be considered lobbying if it refers to specific legislation, reflects a view on such legislation, and encourages the recipient to take action about the specific legislation.

Some examples of encouraging action in a communication are:

  • Urging the recipient to contact legislators;
  • Providing contact information for a legislator;
  • Providing a petition, postcard, or other means to communicate with a legislator; and
  • Identifying one or more legislators who may have an impact on the passage of the legislation.

Under either test, some exceptions for communications that might appear to be lobbying include:

  • Engaging in nonpartisan analysis, study, or research and publishing the results;
  • Responding to a governmental body or committee’s request for technical advice; and
  • Appearing before, or communicating with, a legislative body on matters that might adversely affect your organization.

There are many resources on the subject available online, including on the websites of the IRS, New Jersey’s Center for Non-Profits, and the National Council of Nonprofits. See also last month’s Pro Bono Partnership Pundit post for a discussion of the limits on political activity by 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

Additionally, next month’s Pro Bono Partnership Pundit post will address compliance with the requirements of the 501(h) election in more detail.

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Kent E. Hansen is a senior staff attorney with Pro Bono Partnership, Inc.  Pro Bono Partnership provides free business and transactional legal services to nonprofits serving the disadvantaged or enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

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Posted on by Dodge

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3da2e68fa2Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s chat with Stephanie Lenox!



What are you reading?
I’m “reading” (which means I’m listening to the audio book of) Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Kimmerer and I are both members of the Potawatomi Nation, though from different bands. In the audio version of this book, I can hear the author recount ancestral stories and speak a few words of Bodéwadmimwen, an Algonquin language which has only a handful of fluent speakers. She takes a poetic approach, braiding her scientific research with traditional wisdom and her personal experience as an indigenous woman. It takes longer to listen to a book than to read it, but I really enjoy this extended relationship with a text and with an author’s voice.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
This is a question that every poet must answer and keep answering. When my daughters were infants, I would write at all hours of the night and early morning on scraps of paper before heading back to bed. When they got a little older, I wrote in the car (when it was parked), sometimes in crayon and on whatever I could find between the seats. Now that they’re 4 and 6, I try to involve them in my writing routine. They each have a journal, and we head to the coffee shop for writing time together. I try to write a little bit every day, and I invite my students to join me in the campus coffee shop for what I call The Butt-in-Chair Writing group. Making writing a habit is one way I safeguard it from other demands and distractions. But the real secret is this: poetry has the power to stop time. William Carlos Williams once wrote that a poem is a “machine made out of words.” But what he didn’t know is that a poem is a time machine made out of words: it can take us back, suspend time completely, or whisk us into a future we couldn’t imagine on our own.

Tell us about any personal habits, rituals, ceremonies, superstitions that are part of your writing practice.
I like to write in coffee shops—they’re the perfect mix of public and private space. But when my latté budget is getting out of control or my heart is racing from too much caffeine, I use a free online noise generator to reproduce the sounds of a coffee shop. There’s research out there about how ambient noise (such as the low levels found in coffee shops) can enhance performance on creative tasks. So now I can thank science for supporting my coffee habit!

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
 The most common (and strangest) response I get from people is that they immediately start reciting a poem, any poem, from memory. There’s no transition. It’s like they slip into a poetic trance and out pops a limerick, a nursery rhyme, something from Frost. I love that we can be carrying these poems in our brains for years, and it’s like they’re just waiting for the right moment to make their appearance. It makes me want to memorize more poetry.

When was the moment that you thought, “I can do this,” about poetry?
This is not made up. The moment I thought “I can do this” was post-college, listening to the Language of Life series on cassette tapes in my Geo Metro. These recordings from the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (circa 1995) brought poetry to life for me. I can still hear Naomi Shihab Nye’s voice saying “poems hide in the bottoms of our shoes” whenever someone asks me where I find my inspiration. That’s why I’m so excited about being a part of a festival that has played such a huge role in my development as a poet.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Writing is an act of extreme vulnerability for me, even if the subject matter seems banal. So the answer to your question is yes, everything, every time. Writing exposes my insecurities, fears, and failures. Just like in the poem I wrote about Christopher Wall who was born with his heart outside his body, writing exposes me to the world but also helps me survive in the world. To say the least, I’m always a bit hesitant to share my work and I’ve learned to embrace this hesitancy as part of my writing process. Thankfully, I have a supportive writing group, The Peregrines, who provide a safe space to share my first drafts. As an educator, I recognize this same anxiety in my students. I work hard to build a community of writers who realize how difficult it is to write, who celebrate each other’s successes, and who use their fear to launch them toward the next, risky, worth-waiting-for poem.

Stephanie Lenox is the author of three poetry collections: The Business, selected by Laura Kasischke for the 2015 Colorado Prize for Poetry; Congress of Strange People, short-listed for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize; and The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, winner of the Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition. Additionally, her poems can be found in national journals, including Poet Lore, Mid-American Review, and Washington Square among others. Her poetry has been nominated a half-dozen times for the Pushcart Prize and was named an honorable mention in 2013. Her poetry has been anthologized in Best New Poets and featured on Verse Daily, Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud, and the Poem of the Week website. She is the recipient of artist fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Oregon Arts Commission. As one of the founding editors of the online literary journal Blood Orange Review, she oversaw the transition of the journal to Washington State University’s editing and publishing program, which continues to publish emerging and established writers. She earned her MFA in poetry at the University of Idaho in Moscow. Currently, she lives in Salem, Oregon, where she teaches creative writing at Willamette University.


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Dodge Road Trip: A Pinelands Adventure

Posted on by Meghan Jambor

Pines 3

The Mullica River springs as a small stream from sleepy south Jersey suburbs through the deep woods of Wharton State Forest before it widens and converges with the Batso River, passing just north of Atlantic City casinos as it meets salt and spills into the Atlantic Ocean.

Near its source, sunlight dances on its tea-stained surface, painting reflections of the trees towering over its banks on a late-summer afternoon. It babbles as its waters part for fallen branches and tumbled rocks — and the paddles I dip in to propel me forward in my kayak.

Dodge Road TripThe New Jersey Pinelands encompasses over one-million acres of farms, forests, and wetlands. But it is floating down a three-mile stretch of the Mullica River in the heart of the Pinelands where you experience why this region is so important.

‘Lifeblood of the Ecosystem’

I joined a Pinelands Adventures guided kayak trip led by John Volpa with several Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation colleagues this August. We met Volpa and Carleton Montgomery, Pinelands Preservation Alliance’s executive director, at the canoe livery’s Shamong headquarters to learn about Pinelands ecology before slipping into the river in our boats.

“The No. 1 reason the Pinelands were preserved is because underneath this 1.1 million acres of land is 17 trillion gallons of pure water that is the lifeblood of the ecosystem,” says Volpa, who oversees Pinelands Adventure’s guided trips and education programs. “Visualize the state of New Jersey under 6 feet of water that is pure and clean.”

As I start to imagine what it would be like commuting to work in a kayak, Montgomery pipes in.

“Mostly,” he says. “Mostly pure and clean.”

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance is the watchdog of the Pinelands, the largest surviving swath of natural wilderness on the east coast between the forests of Maine and the Everglades of Florida. Its Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer is one of the cleanest in the world, supplying people, plants, and coastal bays with pristine fresh water.

Pinelands Preservation Alliance fights for the public’s rights against those of private interests ensuring future generations can enjoy the Pinelands and reap its resources without further endangering the Eastern box turtle, Pine Barrens Gentian, or the region’s water supply. These days, that means continuing to battle suburban sprawl while fending off newer threats like oil pipelines and off-road vehicles that cut into this vulnerable place.

Reconnecting With Nature

With the mission of reconnecting people to nature to inspire the kind of ardent passion it takes to protect places of ecologic importance with valuable resources, Pinelands Adventures was born.

Pinelands Adventures rents kayaks and canoes and organizes trips and outings that get people outside to explore the Pinelands. Volpa and other guides lead visitors, including new and experienced paddlers as well as school and community groups, on a range of guided trips.

“This year we’ve been working with students from Newark and Camden — students who have never been in a canoe, so the fear factor is real,” Volpa says. “We teach them basic strokes and do team building games. By the end, you can see they’ve met a challenge, overcome a fear, and they feel different by the end of the day.”

One of the messages Volpa says he tries to get across to youth is the idea of that there are many ways to be smart.

“There’s math smart, music smart, nature smart,” Volpa says. “When you are open to learning, you can find your inner talents and passion.”

Pines 2

Volpa’s passion is environmental education, and Pinelands history.

Holding two jars — one filled with a rich, dark soil and the other a coarse grained sand — he asks which looks like it could grow vegetables.

The answer is obvious — not the sand.

Pinelands’ soil — gravelly, porous, acidic, unable to retain enough moisture for crops and interspersed with layers of clay — is the reason early colonists named the region the Pine Barrens. What the soil is good for, Volpa explains, is filtering water to create clean drinking water.

In 1978, Congress established the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve as the country’s first National Reserve. Although it features hiking trails and plenty of other recreational opportunities, some people live in Jersey their whole lives and only experience the Pinelands trees you have to drive through to get to the Shore.

Up for Adventure

Pines 4

The Pine Barrens Discovery Tour lasts about three hours and takes you by boat through a twisty stretch of river and through the woods to a shore walk to learn about the Pinelands’ uplands and Atlantic Cedar Swamp habitats and the region’s bog iron-and-glass-making past.

Back in the water, the sky opens up as you paddle through a beaver pond covered in lily pads before ending your trip checking out carnivorous plants and seining for small invertebrate.

You’ll see turtles, snakes, and a wide range of Pinelands flora along the way.

There are no rapids to contend with — it’s mostly a gentle ride with the current drawing you down. On our trip, one person who shall remain nameless went overboard twice.

It’s inevitable your kayak will run into the riverbank at some point as you find yourself quickly back paddling to make sharp turns or maneuver around obstacles in the river. But each snag is a reminder to remain calm, enjoy the scenery, and be intentional about where you’re going.

Interested explorers can still book a trip through Pinelands Adventures this fall. Visit their Calendar of Events page for more information.

Learn more about the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and the hot issues it is focused on at

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Meghan Jambor is the Dodge Foundation’s communications manager. For more information on the Dodge Foundation and its environmental grantmaking, click here


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Posted on by Dodge

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kleinWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s chat with Michael Klein!



When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write poetry?
I first discovered poetry at the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village, where I lived as a kid.  I took out all the books of poetry and plays back then because I could read them all in a week or so.  They were all short, and I loved to read but had a hard time entering novels.  Those first poets for me that really started everything were James Wright, Bob Kaufman, W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Clarence Major.

What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?
I’m going to go against W.H. Auden here who said that “poetry makes nothing happen” and say that in the 21st Century, poetry has to make something happen.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
I think I may have just had it!  I spent a week teaching at the Frost Place in Franconia, NH, and the second night there, I got to give a reading in Robert Frost’s barn.  I was looking at a sea of beautiful faces and the White Mountains in the background.  It was a kind of paradise and the reading was—because of the setting—probably the best one I’ve ever given.  I also read last year at McNally Jackson bookstore with Marie Howe and that was a special night, as well.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
“So, you probably never have sex.”

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
That it’s difficult—to which I always say, then read more of it.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem?
I don’t think there should be any kind of rule when it comes to reading a poem.  You experience the reading of a poem as that:  an experience.  Meaning is gathered, too, in the same way.  I let poems wash over me and every one of them has a different way of being “understood”.  But I also think a poem should reflect complexity and not, necessarily, simplicity.  It should stand for something beyond the givenness of mere understanding.

Michael Klein has written four books of poems and two books of non-fiction, as well as editing three anthologies which deal with the AIDS pandemic. He is a five-time Lambda Literary Award finalist and his first book of poems, 1990, tied with James Schuyler to win the award in 1993.  The landmark anthology he edited, Poets for Life:  76 Poets Respond to AIDS won the Lambda Literary award in 1990 and his third book, The Talking Day, was both a Lambda Literary and a Thom Gunn Award finalist. His most recent book is When I Was a Twin and his work has been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Tin House, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Provincetown Arts and many other publications.  He has taught at Sarah Lawrence, The Frost Place and was a guest writer at Binghamton University.  He currently teaches at Hunter College in New York, the MFA Program at Goddard College in Vermont, online ( and summers for the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he lives when he is not living in New York City.


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honoreeWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s chat with Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.


What are you reading?
I like to go back to the “oldies but goodies.” So right now, I am reading, Configurations: New and Selected Poems, 1958-1998 by Clarence Major. And I read a lot of history about African Americans and Native Americans; history really feeds my writing process. So I am re-reading W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919 by David Levering Lewis.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write poetry?
I discovered music in poetry from my mother. One of my most lasting memories is when she would recite “In the Morning” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Mama has the richest, prettiest voice.

I can’t say reading any poets made me want to write poetry, not as a profession. I started writing poetry as a child because the words came to me. Now, there are some poets that I read who make me want to be a better poet than I am already. Lucille Clifton and Mary Oliver and Rita Dove come to mind.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
I don’t make time—poetry intrudes on my life! If I don’t write poems for a couple of weeks, I find myself feeling off-kilter and vaguely sad. I’ll walk around my house (on my off days from teaching) and I will feel strange. I’ll ask myself, “Woman, what’s wrong with you?” And then, it will occur to me that I haven’t written any poetry. So I will turn off my phone on a Saturday and skip church on a Sunday and I will write all weekend long. Because I’m just not myself if I don’t write.

What is the role of poetry in the twenty-first century?
I think I’ve said this before someplace else: the role of poetry in this century is what it has always been, which is to bring beauty to this world and to connect humans to each other.

Today in this publication-centered world, many people think that if you aren’t publishing you aren’t a real poet. But Emily Dickinson didn’t publish. There are many beautiful poets who didn’t publish, mothers and grandmothers who spent their lives taking care of others, or people who couldn’t read and write but who could memorize their words and to recite to themselves. We might not remember their names, but they were poets.

When I was younger, I used to think that I had to be famous to be a poet. And surely, I want fame. Many of us do. But if I never to get to that mythic land called Fame, still I’ve connected with many of my fellow humans through my poetry. That is a real gift to me.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
I have many favorite experiences, but the first one was sixteen years ago at my first, “big” reading. I was wearing these super-cute, black velvet shoes, but I’d slipped in them because the soles were so shiny. So, before I began to read my poems, I took off my shoes, so I wouldn’t fall. I don’t know what it was, but standing there barefoot, I felt so confident. I felt filled with such power, like a spiritual power. It was wonderful. I still take my shoes off before I read. I just don’t feel comfortable reading poetry with something on my feet.

When was the moment that you thought, “I can do this” about poetry?
I don’t think I’ve gotten to that place! I just keep trying to do this work, poem by poem.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” a poem?
I guess I’m old-fashioned, because I like folk to understand my poems. If somebody doesn’t “solve” my poem, then for me, I’m not connecting to humanity, which is really why I write poetry. That doesn’t mean that every poet has to feel the way that I feel about writing poetry—I don’t think that would be fair.

I do believe that these days, the word “accessible” has come to mean “simplistic” or “not smart.” And I don’t think that particular definition of accessible is fair, either. I am a person of color, African American (with some Cherokee thrown in.) For my culture, poetry of what is called “the oral tradition” is very important, because in the oral tradition, a poet is supposed to be understood by the people. And poetry for the people is just as smart and important as poetry that is written only for educated folk who have gone to college and to graduate school.

But again, everybody doesn’t have to feel what I feel about poetry. That’s what’s so great about what I do. There is room for a lot of points of view in the world of poetry. In my humble opinion, we poets are pretty great.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers was born in Kokomo, Indiana, and reared in Durham, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. She holds the BA in English from Talladega College and the MFA in Creative Writing from University of Alabama.

Her four collections of poetry are The Gospel of Barbecue (2000), chosen by Lucille Clifton for the 1999 Wick Poetry Prize, Outlandish Blues (2003), Red Clay Suite (2007), and The Glory Gets (2015).

She has won fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Witter Bynner Foundation through the Library of Congress. As a result of her research on Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to publish a book, she was elected into the American Antiquarian Society, an organization to which fourteen American presidents have belonged.

A prose writer as well, Honorée is the recipient of the Emerging Fiction Fellowship from the Aspen Summer Words Conference, the Tennessee Williams’ Scholarship in Fiction from the Sewanee Writers Conference, and the Goodheart Prize for Fiction from Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee Review.  Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Callaloo, Common-Place: the Interactive Journal of Early American Life, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Poetry International, Shenandoah, StoryQuarterly, The Fire This Time (2016), and Virginia Quarterly Review. 

A native southerner, Honorée has lived on the prairie since 2002, where she is Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. For more information on her, please visit and follow her at @blklibrarygirl on Twitter.



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Posted on by Dodge

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BrownNickoleWEBWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s chat with Nickole Brown.




When was the moment that you thought, “I can do this,” about poetry?

Honestly? Last night. A few minutes before midnight. I had piddled all day, procrastinating and scared as ever to get back to the white expanse of yet another blank page. So after hours of cleaning the house and emailing and walking the dog and futzing around on Facebook and well, doing everything except what I most needed to do, I finally caved, got over myself, and found the courage to sit in my blue chair again. About halfway through a new draft, I thought, “Yes, yes, I can do this.” It wasn’t the first time I’d thought that but, like always, that realization is a revelation every time.

You see, working as a poet, for me, is a dream I don’t often believe, or worse, feel I deserve. Coming from a family that largely made money doing manual labor, it’s tough to give myself permission to write, to do something that has such little measurable value in a world that loves to measure every little thing. I mean, rarely does a published poem even earn minimum wage. And a poem certainly doesn’t accomplish anything that one can recognize right away as work—it doesn’t get the laundry done or fix a broken hinge or mend a torn sleeve. But make no mistake about it, writing is work. It’s just the kind of work that no one or no thing depends on, not really. Or at least not in a way we can readily see. No thing, depends on a poem, except, of course, for most of everything indefinable within me, quiet and stirring within.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Do you have a poem that shames you? That makes you downright nauseous, wild with discordant, blatantly contradictory feelings? That might just be a poem worth keeping. As are poems that are culpable and vulnerable and embarrassed as all get out—because let me tell you, any poem of mine that ended up being worth its salt I initially wanted to set to flame then bury in the backyard.

But trust me on this one. Honesty—when it’s scrubbed clean of all blame and self-pity—is the one quality that almost always transmits across the divide between a poet and her reader. When a poem manages this, it’s possible to get the best feedback like, “I didn’t even know you could write about that in a poem.” And as frustrating as it may be, most poems of mine that readers respond to have been dredged up from the place where so many things that make one a steady, productive citizen—polite conversation and sense-making, for example—are irrelevant, nearly fatal to a poem. But what makes such difficult dredging worthwhile, is when you’ve dared to read that poem aloud, is when someone comes up to you afterward and whispers, “Me. Me too.” And in that moment you both know you are a little less alone.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

Often in my writing and always in my teaching, I’m trying to do one thing: knock poetry off its pedestal. Looking at it another way, I try to get readers to stop putting poetry on a pedestal in the first place. I want encounters with poems to be straight on, squarely at eye level, and it’s my hope folks will take as much ownership of their own experience of reading a poem as they do when watching a film or listening to a song. It bothers me how afraid we are of poetry, how we hesitate to say we don’t enjoy a poem when instead we sheepishly (or angrily) say we “just don’t get it.” Poetry doesn’t belong to anyone exclusively; instead, it belongs to everyone with the  openness to spend some time with its lines. Conversely, if you take ownership of your experience with a poem, you can’t say you’ve been left out of some exclusive club, because well, you’ve done your part—you gave a poem a fair chance and feel the way you feel about it. Put another way, don’t worry about getting into some exclusive “poetry” club. By reading a poem and having your own reaction to it, you’re in the club already.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

I wouldn’t dare speak for anyone but myself on this one, but I want my poems to sit across from you and speak plain. I want them not to just be understood, but to be felt. By my colleagues and by other poets. But also by waitresses and cashiers and secretaries. By my mama and my sisters and my neighbor who never read a poem before in his livelong life. I don’t write for all these people—to do so would be a disaster. Instead, I write to them.

Matter of fact, I continually have to remind myself not to try to write at all, because when I do, the poems feel, well, “written.” Instead, I use writing as a way of talking and wailing and singing and joking around; I want the reader to know I’m going to do my best to neither botch things up by dumbing things down or by creating an elaborate puzzle for them to solve. A lot of writers embellish and complicate their poems not because the poems require it but because it’s easier to be obscure than vulnerable. Lord knows I’ve done that more than once, and those poems always fall flat on their faces.

I know this is a controversial thing to say. The only caveat I would add would be that “meaning” should never be too narrowly defined. Meaning—if we think if it simply as the worth of a poem—means something different to the ear or the eyes, to the head or heart. Wordplay is a kind of meaning, as is the visual architecture of a poem on the page. Ideas can be pleasing as well. For me, story carries most of what I have that’s of any worth, so I’m primarily a narrative poet. Simply put, I write to remember. It’s when I write to be remembered that my poems fail.

Nickole Brown is the author of Fanny Says, a collection of poems published by BOA Editions in 2015; her debut, Sister, a novel-in-poems published by Red Hen Press in 2007; and an anthology, Air Fare, that she co-edited with Judith Taylor. She graduated from The Vermont College of Fine Arts, studied literature at Oxford University as an English Speaking Union Scholar, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She worked at the independent, literary press, Sarabande Books, for ten years, and she was the National Publicity Consultant for Arktoi Books and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years until deciding to write full time. Currently, she is the Editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry at White Pine Press and is on faculty at the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Murray State and at the Writing Workshops in Greece. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs.





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New Jersey Recovery Fund Shares Lessons Learned with Chinese Delegation

Posted on by Meghan Jambor

Delegation Group

A delegation of Chinese officials made a stop in Morristown recently to learn how New Jersey’s philanthropic sector helped strengthen communities for the long term following Hurricane Sandy.

The visit on Sept. 29 was part of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Emergency Management Office’s 21-day trip to Washington, D.C., and New York to hear innovative approaches to disaster response. The trip included meetings with officials from FEMA, the Government Accountability Office, the New York City mayor’s office and the New York Fire Department.

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s office, the 20-member delegation heard from representatives from the New Jersey Recovery Fund, a joint effort among local and national foundations, corporations, and individuals that united after Sandy. Immediately after the storm slammed into New Jersey’s coast, the New Jersey Community Foundation established the fund and partnered with Dodge to raise more than $7 million, which  was quickly awarded to 25 recovery projects led by partners spanning environmental, media, education, arts, housing, and planning organizations.

“In the United States, we have government and charitable organizations that step in to serve immediate needs after a disaster,” said Hans Dekker, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of New Jersey. “The New Jersey Recovery Fund focused on the mid- and-long-term issues of recovery and the decisions about how we rebuild.”

One of the projects, led by New Jersey Future, was deploying local recovery planning managers to provide assistance to six communities hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy — Highlands and Sea Bright in Monmouth County, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor in Ocean County, and Commercial and Maurice River in Cumberland County.

In the early days of the relationships, these recovery planning managers assisted as “gatekeepers” and points of contact for the multitude of offers of assistance to communities, freeing up local leaders to focus on immediate relief.

Teri Jover, New Jersey Future’s deputy executive director, shared how these early efforts helped recovery managers build trusting relationships with local leaders and helped pave the way for more in-depth conversations and exploration of how communities could move from immediate relief to long-term recovery.

“What was important to us was getting to the discussion of future risk,” Jover said. “We know there’s sea-level rise coming — it’s already beginning to happen, so how do we talk to the residents of those communities about the risks they’re facing?”

The recovery managers created maps for each town that factored in sea-level rise projections showing the flooding threats, structural damages, and financial risks residents and officials should expect from future storms. The maps, Jover said, brought home the challenges communities face, which made it easier to have informed conversations to address vulnerabilities and confront risk.

Tim Dillingham, American Littoral Society’s executive director, shared how the organization worked with partners from the public and private sectors to restore beaches under an extremely tight deadline to ensure that they were ready for the endangered red knots and the imperiled horseshoe crabs on which the birds depend.

His team removed 822 tons of rubble, pilings and old bulkheads from beaches – much of which would have posed insurmountable obstacles to horseshoe crabs seeking to breed. They trucked in 1,517 truckloads of sand to restore just over a mile of damaged horseshoe crab habitat. The effort was successful, thus avoiding a natural catastrophe for the migrant shorebirds.

“Like the rest of the state, the Delaware Bayshore was hit hard by the storm,” Dillingham said. “We had the ability to work with all sorts of partners. One of the unique aspects of NGOs like us is we are not only able to be innovative and test out new approaches, but we are not bound by same restrictions as government so we can act much faster.”

Private dollars, including a grant from the New Jersey Recovery Fund, arrived first, providing the funding needed to get the project off the ground.

“We would not have been able to accomplish this so fast without private dollars,” he said.

The Council of New Jersey Grantmakers held weekly calls with philanthropy leaders from New Jersey and colleagues across the country who shared their experience and expertise on disaster recovery needs, said Nina Stack, the council’s president.

Working with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, Council of New Jersey Grantmakers collaborated on the Disaster Philanthropy Playbook, a comprehensive resource of best practices and innovative approaches to guide the philanthropic community in responding to future disasters.

Elizabeth Murphy, who led efforts on behalf of the CDP and CNJG to develop the playbook, urged the delegation to consider the full scope of disaster recovery needs of communities, not just brick and mortar rebuilding. Successful disaster response efforts, she said, should take into account habitat restoration, mental health programs, and arts and culture responses that help people process the feelings of loss and learn how to talk about what happened to them.

“In the United States, those things are not traditionally covered by the federal government and are often where private philanthropy steps in,” Murphy said. “Think beyond infrastructure rebuilding – think about how you rebuild people’s lives.”


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Arts Ed Now: Local Heroes Spotlight

Posted on by Kira Campo, New Jersey Arts Education Partnership


This September, in schools throughout New Jersey there was added cause for excitement amid the usual flurry of activity that marks the start of the school year.

Arts_Ed_Now_VertDuring National Arts in Education Week, September 12-17, students, parents, teachers, arts administrators, school leaders, and others joined together in celebration of the official launch of the Arts Ed Now campaign.

Excitement for the campaign message continued to gain momentum during the week-long, statewide celebration. Enthusiastic ambassadors took to the internet to communicate their support. Photos and video were shared, liked and retweeted! Through various social media channels, #ArtsEdNow reached millions of unique viewers.

Many organizations were eager to voice support for the chief campaign goal — increasing student participation in arts education. The collection of Local Heroes featured on the Arts Ed Now website is just a small sample of the mighty support and attention the Arts Ed Now campaign has received.

By taking the lead, a marvelous group of dedicated champions served as shining examples. East Brunswick High School, Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the New Jersey Education Association, are just a few of the Local Heroes that have inspired many more. You can find all Local Heroes stories here.

Participating in the launch enabled individuals and organizations to raise awareness about Arts Ed Now and to connect with others who feel it is important that all school districts in New Jersey provide students with robust arts education programs.

A poll conducted by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers revealed that 95 percent of NJ residents believe arts education is important for K-12 students, and only 30 percent have taken action to support arts education. Fortunately, with the launch of the Arts Ed Now campaign, residents now have many of the tools that are needed in order for coordinated, sustained action to take place.


Stay tuned for updates and check campaign central often (weekly, daily…or hourly!) to see what is taking place across the state. The website,, will continue to highlight the ongoing advocacy efforts of ambassadors throughout the multi-year campaign in New Jersey.

You will also see ways to connect to the national network of advocates that remain active on social media. For example, this October, in honor of National Arts and Humanities month, we invite you to continue expressing your support for the arts by joining the Americans for the Arts #showyourart social media campaign.

Highlight works of art from the daily theme graphic, using the hashtags #artsednow and #showyourart.

Show your art



Arts Ed Now launched this September, but it will be part of New Jersey’s schools and communities for years to come.


Kira Campo is the Program Development Manager at the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership (NJAEP). She can be reached at The NJAEP was established in 2007 to provide a unified voice for a diverse group of constituents who agree on the educational benefits and impact of the arts, specifically the contribution they make to student achievement and a civilized, sustainable society. For additional details about the NJAEP, visit

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Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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borlandWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 

Now, let’s chat with Bryan Borland!


What are you reading?
Right now, I’m reading Collected Poems: 1950-2012 by Adrienne Rich. Each time I read Rich, who, posthumously has become my mentor and teacher thanks to the weight and substance of her body of work, I find some truth to the current moment. That’s the beautiful duality of the best poetry, really. How it observes and reports on a specific situation, something we need to be aware of, but at the same time, to make that commentary timeless. Her book, Dark Fields of the Republic, which is included in her Collected, could have been written about the United States in 2016. It’s like she was warning us. But why didn’t we listen? And that begs the question, who is writing right now to warn us? And are we listening?

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
There’s often a misconception, particularly among students who are just being introduced to poetry, that there’s always a right answer as far as what a poem means, and when that’s taught as an absolute, it can educate the love of poetry right out of someone because it prevents that very personal transaction of energy from occurring between the poem and the audience. It’s important to study a poet’s intent, but the truth is, when a poem is raised and walks on its own into the world to be discovered by an audience, it becomes the property of the reader or the listener, and the end point of that poem, the final part of the equation, is up to that audience. As a reader of poetry, you finish the equation. And that transaction of energy I mentioned? It’s a transaction of energy from the linebreaks to your body and your brain. And as a writer, as a poet, creating a poem means having the ability to shoot fire from your hands. What readers do with that fire, whether it’s to light up the night, warm their feet, or burn down the house, that’s not up to the poet or the teacher or the textbook. In this way, the reader becomes the most powerful part of the poetic equation.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
The poet James Tate said in his Paris Review interview, “I love my funny poems, but I’d rather break your heart.” My favorite thing to do with an audience is use poetry to span that range of emotion. I love to make an audience laugh early on by reading something that disarms them and makes them laugh. An unexpected use of language. Some unusual way of approaching poetry. Or if it’s a younger audience, I’ll do something silly, like have my hosts introduce me like I’m a professional wrestler. I’ll run in as “The Poet” and give high-fives and talk about the muscle of language and how it can break down walls. And then, when they have their guard down, I’ll go right for the heart. I’ll break it a little, or a lot, and then I’ll use poetry to mend it, too. Once you connect like that, on a really human level, the audience is in for the long haul.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
If I don’t make time for poetry when a poem is knocking at the door, it throws everything off. It’s like an electric current, and if I don’t let my fingertips do their thing, the electricity is going to end up other places and something’s going to short out. The microwave is going to explode or the toaster’s going to smoke. Ignoring creative energy can be dangerous. Especially on one’s appliances.

Bryan Borland, a Lambda Fellow in Poetry and winner of the 2016 Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award, is the founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press. He is the author of My Life as Adam, which was selected by the American Library Association for its first annual “Over the Rainbow” list of recommended LGBT reading, and Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father, both from Sibling Rivalry Press, as well as DIG, just published by Stillhouse Press. He is the founding editor of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry, which was honored in its first year by Library Journalas a “Best New Magazine,” the editor of Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry, which was included on 2013’s “Over the Rainbow” list, and the co-editor of Joy Exhaustible, an anthology highlighting the writing of gay publishers and editors, which was included on 2014’s “Over the Rainbow” list. He lives in Arkansas with his husband and co-publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, Seth Pennington.



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Field Trip New Jersey: $1 Million for Newark Field Trips

Posted on by Dodge
FieldTripNJ Group

Representatives from Field Trip New Jersey, the Victoria Foundation, Chubb Family and Newark Public Schools gather to celebrate a $1 million gift from the Victoria Foundation to create the Pi Chubb Newark Field Trip Fund at Central High School on Wednesday. Photo Courtesy of Field Trip New Jersey


Newark, NJ — The Community Foundation of New Jersey, the Victoria Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Newark Public Schools today announced the creation of the Pi Chubb Newark Field Trip Fund, a $1 million dollar endowment ensuring Newark children get outside their classrooms to experience field trips that enhance learning for many years to come.

The Pi Chubb Newark Field Trip Fund is a special endowment that will be part of Field Trip New Jersey, a program that launched in January to provide transportation funding for field trips to schools in underserved communities across New Jersey.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Community Foundation of New Jersey, the Victoria Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Newark students will have more opportunities to go on field trips that will take them beyond the classroom and into the world of history, culture, the arts, nature and science,” said Christopher D. Cerf, Superintendent of Newark Public Schools. “We want to create a learning environment that will allow our students to learn and grow, not only in the classroom, but in the real world. More field trips will help inspire our students to use their imagination and dream big, and we are excited to see what doors this fund will open for them.”

The Pi Chubb Newark Field Trip is open to all public, charter and non-profit private schools in Newark, grades pre-Kindergarten through 12. Schools may apply for funding to cover the transportation cost of field trips to help school children experience the arts, culture, history, nature, science, and college campuses. Students may also take field trips to tour college campuses in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, DC.

Sally Chubb speaks with students from Central High School after the announcement Wednesday.

Sally Chubb speaks with students from Central High School after the announcement Wednesday.

The Victoria Foundation established the endowed fund of Field Trip New Jersey in memory of Percy “Pi” Chubb III, a philanthropist and former vice chairman of The Chubb Corporation. Throughout his life, Chubb was involved in the foundation his grandfather founded in 1924. For 30 years, he served as board president, dedicated to the foundation’s mission of breaking the cycle of poverty in Newark by supporting projects addressing K-12 education reform, neighborhood revitalization, and strengthening youth and families.

“For more than four decades, Percy Chubb was passionate about Victoria Foundation’s mission to serve the Newark community and he was particularly concerned about the well-being of Newark’s youngest citizens,” said Irene Cooper-Basch, executive officer of the Victoria Foundation. “We hope that the Pi Chubb Newark Field Trip Fund will help all Newark students gain memorable and meaningful experiences through educational and enriching school field trips for years to come.”


The Pi Chubb Newark Field Trip Fund will provide grants of up to $700 per school each year, which may cover multiple trips. Priority will be given to field trips that bring students outside their school district.

Field Trip New Jersey launched as a pilot program last school year. Eighty-three schools from throughout the state received grants totaling $45,000 to experience such trips as glassmaking at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center, a poetry slam at William Paterson University, and historic reenactments at Historic Cold Springs Village.

“The benefits that field trips can have on our young people are often overlooked — they have the power to inspire and enrich student’s lives,” said Hans Dekker, president of the Community Foundation of New Jersey and Field Trip New Jersey spokesperson. “Field trips can help a child begin to imagine his or her future as a college student, researcher, artist or leader. We hope that our new program in Newark will help inspire a new generation of young people to pursue their dreams.”

FieldTripNJ Alicia

Central High School, Luis Munoz Marin, Oliver Street School, Quitman Street Community School, Barringer High STEAM Academy, among others, participated in Field Trip New Jersey last year.

At Central High School, Field Trip New Jersey paid for transportation for juniors and seniors to travel to Salem County to see PSE&G’s Energy and Environmental Resource Center firsthand. This experience focused on helping these students build a greater understanding of energy, environmental challenges, and strategies for balancing energy demand with environmental stewardship.

Applications for trips to take place through the end of the 2016-17 school year are due on Dec. 5, 2016.

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For more information and to apply, visit

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#BetterNJ Twitter Chat: Get Psyched for the Dodge Poetry Festival

Posted on by Dodge


Newark will be buzzing with poetry for four days when the Dodge Poetry Festival takes over nine venues in the Brick City October 20-23.

We’re jump-starting the Festival excitement with a Twitter chat on poetry with Festival insider tips featuring @DodgePoetryFest from 2-3 p.m. on Tuesday, October 11.

This year marks the Festival’s 30th anniversary since its debut at New Jersey’s Waterloo Village. Called “Wordstock” by the New York Times, the Festival is a celebration of poetry that immerses participants in four days of readings, performances, and conversations.

The Dodge Poetry Festival features more than 60 poets plus performers that bring the joy of words to life. Of the many highlights, poets Claudia Rankine, Martín Espada, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Katha Pollitt will take part in a poetry discussion, “The Work to be Done: Poetry and Social Justice,”  moderated by Brian Lehrer, host of the “The Brian Lehrer Show.”

During the chat, meet fellow poetry lovers, share what poetry means to you, and get tips on how to make the most of the Festival.

All you have to do is follow the hashtag #betternj and #DPF16 and join the conversation.

#BetterNJ Twitter Chat – Poetry
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
2 – 3 PM

Why is the Dodge Foundation hosting a Twitter chat?

Simply, Twitter chats are about connecting and learning. It’s an easy way to hit pause in your work day from where ever you are and share ideas and best practices with peers from across the state.

Twitter chats are also a great way to make new connections and reach new audiences while trying out new tools.

All are welcome to join the chat. The more voices, the better the conversation!

Tips for Participating in a Twitter Chat:

  • Use Twitter to follow #betternj — or give this cool chatting tool a try:
  • Don’t be afraid to jump in!
  • Always use #betternj in your tweet
  • When the moderator asks the first question, it will begin with “Q1”. Respond by beginning your answer with “A1” and so on…
  • Chat with other participants by replying directing to them and RT if you’re digging their responses
  • Feel free to dip in and out of the chat
  • Be polite and positive
  • Follow up with people after the chat and keep the conversations going!

Set a reminder on your calendar to join us. We hope to see you on Twitter!


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Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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GaineyWEBWelcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16! 


Now, let’s chat with Celeste Gainey!



When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write poetry?

I came upon poetry as soon as I could read. A poet is the first thing I can remember ever wanting to be. I committed favorite poems to memory, many I can still recite. This early love of poetry and entreé into the land of literary imagination was assisted by the likes of A.A. Milne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Seuss, and, most definitely, my alter ego, Kay Thompson’s and Hillary Knight’s Eloise. Sadly, as I progressed through grade school, junior high, and high school, poetry did not follow. For college, I opted for film school over a liberal arts education. Then a life of working with light, first as a gaffer in film, then as an architectural lighting designer, became my existence. During all this time I did not write poetry, I did not read poetry. Flash forward to a mid-life crisis where I found myself writing what I like to call “attempted poetry.” It felt so vital and necessary that I quickly found myself pursuing an MFA in creative writing. My very first mentor, poet Jan Beatty, hammered in the bedrock of who I am as a poet. Her poems continue to remind me when I’m writing to be authentic, grounded, yet reach beyond myself.  Poets whose brilliance of craft and personal singularity now inspire me to keep writing comprise a long list indeed, but must include Eloise Klein Healy, Judy Grahn, Pat Parker, Claudia Rankine, C.D. Wright, Eleni Sikelianos, D.A. Powell, Robin Becker, Brenda Hillman, Aaron Smith, Frank Bidart, B.H. Fairchild, Terrance Hayes, Sheila Carter-Jones, Joy Katz, James Wright, the New York School poets, most especially, my totemic poetry brother from the great beyond who keeps telling me, “do this, do that,” Frank O’Hara.

What are you reading?

Right now I’m at a writing residency, so I have a number of books with me at various stages of investigation. I’m beginning a poetry project that calls on Film Noir, so I’m studying Alexander Ballinger’s and Danny Graydon’s The Rough Guide to Film Noir.

For poetry, I’m happily into David Trinidad’s The Late Show. I love his work!

Next up is David Lehman’s history of the New York School of Poets, The Last Avant-Garde, to be followed by Sarah Shulman’s memoir, The Gentrification of the Mind.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

I was a terribly overweight Catholic school kid taught by nuns in the fifties and sixties who grew up to be a closeted lesbian in seventies New York, so yes, most definitely, I’ve written poems that were hard for me to share, let alone write. Some having to do with lesbian sex, which, when I can find it portrayed at all, is often represented in a way with which I find it hard to identify. In writing these poems I discovered the power of releasing my own learned shame and homophobia; in reading them in front of an audience, I discover over and over the power of saying out loud, “I’m no longer afraid. This is who I am.”

Tell us about your favorite experience reading in front of an audience?

It had to be the first public reading from my book, the GAFFER, at The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, CA. The date was February 3rd__my birthday, my mother’s birthday, and Gertrude Stein’s birthday. It was a knockout lineup of poets: Veronica Reyes, Kim Dower, Terry Wolverton, and my beloved editor at Arktoi Books, Eloise Klein Healy. All popular LA poets, the room was jammed, folks hanging from the rafters. And there I was, an LA resident from long ago, now living in Pittsburgh. Few in the room knew me, or my poetry. I was the first up and as I read my poems for all these new ears it was almost electric to feel their response, hear their laughter. I think what occurred was an experience so totally fresh and unexpected, for both the audience and myself. I can only say it was magical. And the magic continued with each poet that followed. By the time we all finished reading, there was so much love in that room you could feel it beating. And that is the power of poetry.

What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

That it has to be “understood.” Why not simply be curious and open to a poem.

Ask questions. See where it takes you.

What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?

There are certainly many roles for poetry, but one, I think, which has become more vital in this century is poetry as portal into the experience of “the other.” Because of its plasticity of form, symbol, and language, its outlier ability to embrace the new, and its suitability to current forms of social media, poetry is exceptionally equipped to give us numerous windows, at grassroots level, that open into the lives and souls of those not like ourselves.

Celeste Gainey is the author of the full-length poetry collection, the GAFFER, (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press, 2015). Her chapbook, In the land of speculation & seismography (Seven Kitchens Press, 2011), was runner-up for the 2010 Robin Becker Prize.

Gainey was the first woman to be admitted as a gaffer to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the preeminent craft union in the motion picture industry. In addition to lighting documentaries and feature segments for programs such as 60 Minutes, ABC Close-Up, and 20/20, she worked on the sets of several renowned feature films, among them, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Wiz. Gainey went on to become a leading lighting designer and consultant in the field of architecture in both New York City and Los Angeles, designing lighting systems for restaurants, offices, retail stores, and residences in the U.S. and abroad.

Gainey graduated with a BFA in Film & Television from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and earned an MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Carlow University. Her poems have been published widely in journals and online. Born and raised in Southern California, she currently lives in Pittsburgh. For more information please go to


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Dodge Road Trip: Exploring New Jersey’s Other Shore — The Bayshore

Posted on by Naeema Campbell

Dodge Road Trip

The drive from northern New Jersey to the Delaware Bayshore takes two hours and brings you through a variety of landscapes.

The heavily industrialized corridors in the north quickly give way to expansive farms and suburbs in central and southern Jersey. While traveling south on Route 55 and Route 49, the scenery changes again from farms to forest and then to wetlands and marshes.

On a recent drive to the region to visit two Dodge environment program grantees, I began to wonder how a place that is ecologically important could be so underrated in New Jersey. Everyone knows about the Jersey Shore on the Atlantic Ocean side and its importance to the state’s economy. But, have you heard of the Bayshore before today?

More so, the Delaware Bay is considered to be one of the most important navigation channels in the United States — it is the second busiest waterway after the Mississippi River.

In the morning Margaret Waldock, Environment Program director, and I met with staff from the Natural Lands Trust to learn more about a property they had recently preserved. The Sunset Lake Preserve is 119-acres of old growth forest located near the Cohansey River in Cumberland County.

Steve Eisenhauer, regional director of Stewardship and Land Protection explained that preserving the land would protect the old growth forest from development and nearby Sunset Lake from pollution. As we walked the trails it felt like were in an oasis in the middle of suburbia. In the hot July sun, I appreciated being provided with much-needed shade canopy from the tall trees.

But, I found it difficult to imagine what the area would look like without the forest. If the land had been developed, it would have been a tremendous loss to locals whom use the trails on a daily basis.

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Since I was having such an amazing time on a two-hour site visit, I could only imagine the different kinds of fun other visitors to the property would have. Eisenhauer detailed a few of the trips he led with students from Cumberland and Salem County to visit Natural Lands Trust’s other preserves – the Glades Refuge and Shaws Mill Pond.

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For many of the students, these field trips may be one of the few times that they connect with nature and learn about the environment outside of the classroom. So, it is even more critical that Eiesenhauer and his colleagues provide students from underserved communities with access and opportunities to explore the salt marshes and beaches of the Delaware Bayshore.

The Dodge Foundation’s support to Natural Lands Trust highlights their commitment to connecting local youth with the unique ecosystems in their communities especially in Cumberland and Salem counties.

Cumberland and Salem counties are among New Jersey’s poorest. Cumberland’s poverty rate is 20 percent, and Salem’s is 14 percent, according to 2014 Census data. It is even more critical that Eiesenhauer and his colleagues provide students from underserved communities with access and opportunities to explore the salt marshes and beaches of the Delaware Bayshore.

The main road that gives residents and business owners to Money Island Marina.

The main road that gives residents and business owners to Money Island Marina.

After a quick lunch at a local diner, we headed further south towards Newport to meet with staff from the Partnership for the Estuary to see a few of the shoreline restoration projects they had been managing.

While standing in the marsh around Money Island Marina, I could see that the river was busy with ships and boats entering and leaving the bay. Unlike the Atlantic Coast, this part of the state was developed for commercial activities such as fishing, shipping and oyster harvesting and not tourism.

Honestly, I could not contain my enthusiasm as Dr. Danielle Kreeger, the organization’s science director, led us into the muddy waters to get a closer look at living shoreline projects that the Partnership has been constructing and monitoring where the Nantuxent Creek meets the Delaware River.

Kreeger explained how the living shoreline installation is a nature-based method to stabilize the coast from erosion while also preserving or enhancing the native environmental conditions. In the case of Money Island, these marshes had been slowly eroding away and the creeks filling in with sediment causing a loss of habitat and roadway. In the photo above, there are parts of the roadway missing that had fallen into the creek.

Danielle Kreeger, Science Director at Partnership for Delaware Estuary

Dr. Danielle Kreeger, Science Director at Partnership for Delaware Estuary explaining how the shell bags and coconut fiber logs create a permanent environment for native marsh grasses to root into.

This particular project consisted of planting native wetland plants with mussels and empty shells along the tidal water line. Kreeger and the other scientists are using this project to collect data that proves that a living shoreline intervention promotes a high abundance and diversity of organisms, keeps pace with sea level rise, filters pollutants from the water and reduces the potential for downstream erosion issues.

Anecdotally, Kreeger said she has noticed that since the project was installed, fisherman have commented that they can fish for bait in the creek again and roadway flooding has reduced.

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The Bayshore is a part of New Jersey that should not be overlooked.

Even a short visit with Natural Lands Trust and Partnership for the Delaware Estuary provide a glimpse the work they are doing to preserve the unique value this region has to offer and why these ecosystems need to be protected and preserved for future residents of the state.

Posted in Dodge Road Trip, Environment, What We're Learning | Leave a comment

Discovery Orchestra: How Shall We Study Music?

Posted on by George Marriner Maull, The Discovery Orchestra

Discovery Orchestra 2 cr. Jeanne Maass

I live and breathe classical music.

This came very naturally to me from my mother, Helen, who was a highly accomplished classical pianist. Before entering kindergarten, I had already learned that listening to classical music has the power to take us on a powerful emotional journey with just abstract sound — without the benefit of words that are the basis of dramas, plays and novels.

Over my career teaching the listening skills that help people connect with classical music, I have seen countless students, professional educators, classical novices and even seasoned concertgoers transformed into more confident, empathetic, and creative individuals by tapping deeply into the power of abstract music.

The secret is that it doesn’t take a complicated educational process or years of private lessons to learn. These deep listening skills can be taught to young children in our schools.

That’s what I shared with an audience of educators at Using Arts-Infused Instruction to Enhance NJ’s Learning Standards, a three-day conference presented by New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association and Foundation for Educational Administration. Held at Princeton University in July, the event provided all of the artist-speakers with an opportunity to advocate for how their art form can be used to advance the core curriculum standards of New Jersey’s public schools.

I owe my approach to teaching music listening to Dr. Saul Feinberg, a teacher at Philadelphia’s Abraham Lincoln High School during my student days there in the 1960s.  While musical performance activities at Lincoln were excellent, it wasn’t the school’s two concert choirs, chamber choir, two a cappella vocal quartets, two concert bands, marching band, jazz band, two orchestras, and the annual musical that set Lincoln High apart — it was the way Saul Feinberg taught music listening.

Rather than focus on teaching musical performance — the curricular emphasis at the time, and even today in most schools  — Saul adapted the two-year ‘general music’ requirement of two 45-minute periods a week for eighth and ninth graders in all Pennsylvania public schools to teach aesthetic music listening skills.

How should we teach music?

Music instruction offered in schools would ideally mirror the three basic musical behaviors: creating (composing or improvising), performing and listening from an aesthetic viewpoint.

In a perfect world, all students in school would receive instruction in composing/improvising, performing and listening. Each year, from kindergarten through middle school, very specific standards could be set for each grade level.   For example, by the end of first grade, every child should be able to: improvise in song or playing an Orff xylophone a simple ostinato (creation); sing a simple melody transmitted in Kodaly hand signals (performance); recognize a simple ternary form (listening).

Such a curriculum would, over time, produce a musically literate society.

Wow! Now there’s a thought…a musically literate society. Individuals trained in this fashion would be capable of performing, reading and inventing music.   And, as listeners, they would also be able to emotionally connect with the greatest music human society has produced regardless of genre: classical, jazz, pop, folk or world and regardless of when that music was created ­from the earliest times to the present.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. And in the very real world of school, many music curriculums are entirely performance oriented or nearly so.

Music education in America means: little children with violins in hand; kids singing in choirs and playing in marching bands; and performing in the annual Broadway show. And all of that is very important, and not to be taken for granted where it exists — given the cuts to arts programs that we have experienced in recent decades.

But short of offering a comprehensive music education encompassing all three musical behaviors, might we at least consider adding the teaching of aesthetic music listening to all students, performers and non-performers alike?  This is what I proposed to my audience of Principals and Supervisors in Princeton. At The Discovery Orchestra, we have some follow-up planned. Stay tuned.

George Marriner Maull

George Marriner Maull is the artistic director of The Discovery Orchestra and has reached millions of viewers nationwide through his Emmy-nominated educational Discovery Concerts for American Public Television.  The Discovery Orchestra’s new eight-part series for American Public Television, Fall in Love with Music, began airing in late March 2016 and episodes have already received nearly 1,000 broadcasts on PBS affiliates.  

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