2014 Featured Festival Poet: Claudia Emerson

Posted on by Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry

Watch the Cortland Review’s Poets in Person with Claudia Emerson and her husband, musician Kent Ippolito, for a delightful introduction to one of our 2014 Festival Poets.

The tour of her home is, in many ways, a brief tour of the sensibility behind her poems. Pointing out an antique roll-top desk her mother used as a child and her father’s boyhood pencil box she says, “As you can see, we like old things.”

This sense of the history alive in old objects and places is present in much of Emerson’s work, particularly in earlier books like Pharoah, Pharoah and Pinion: An Elegy. In those collections, she took on personas to tell stories of loss deeply rooted in a sense of a particular place. More recently, this sense of history has become more personal. Like her mother’s desk and father’s pencil box, the objects she explores in poems like “Artifact” and “Daybook” unfold deep, often intimate connections.

Emerson herself comments on how surprised she is by the personal nature of these poems. We often expect younger poets to start out writing autobiographically and become more objective as they mature. But Emerson, like Henri Cole and Stanley Kunitz among others, is one of those poets whose work has become more intimate over time. These newer poems are all the more powerful for the long apprenticeship to craft that preceded them.

Emerson seems equally surprised that she became a poet at all, having expected to be a writer of fiction. But the reader of her poems is not surprised by this. “Pitching Horseshoes” is only one example of her clear narrative voice and gifts as a natural storyteller.

Add to this her love of music, which informs the structure of her every line, and you have a good sense of her approach to her work which, like her yard, welcomes all kinds of creatures from the natural world, including animals, birds, insects, plants and humans, too. This is not to suggest that these are comfortable or easy poems. The beloved old object often carries a story of profound loss, and increased intimacy means we may be touched in ways we had not expected.

Claudia Emerson and Kent Ippolito will be performing together during an exploration of poetry and song at the 2014 Dodge Festival.


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: Camille Dungy

Posted on by Michele Russo, Poetry Coordinator
Photo by Ray Black, University of Georgia, courtesy of PoetryFoundation.org

To get to know Camille Dungy, watch her read “before her heart, a mechanical aperture, closed” which starts at 7:50 here:

The poem risks heading into the world of cliché—a love poem which connects with nature and which relies on images of the heart.  Yet, the poem is so grounded in the whole body, and in an intimacy with the natural world and transcends our ideas of “heart.”  The “squabbling quail,” the “pit of her navel,” are super-condensed gems which zing out to our subconscious minds and grab us with their beauty and genius—a squab is a kind of pigeon. And if you were like me, the “pit of her navel” brought to mind images of plums, peaches, and oranges.  These images are  interspersed with the incantatory “she’d been waiting, she’d been waiting.”  The longing being  expressed  becomes a constant, a refrain for this heart we are getting to know.  Only through a rich relationship with nature, and with longing, could this poem’s beauty be achieved.

Camille Dungy’s poems carry this depth and groundedness whatever the subject matter may be.  Suck on the Marrow, which won the 2011 American Book Award, tells the stories of African Americans in the 19th century–fugitive slaves, kidnapped Northern-born blacks, and free people of color.   The poet—and in a way, the poetry–becomes almost invisible in these poems, allowing the subjects to tell their stories in their own language.  While we are getting bits of these characters’ stories, it is clear that Dungy has lived with them.   We want to know more, and we sense that there is much more to be told.  Take for example this poem which is part of “From the Unwritten Letters of Joseph Freeman:”  (Freeman is a kidnapped Northern-born black man. )

(February, 1841)
Do you ever start at night believing
I might be dead?  I leave my body
sometimes, Melinda.  Is that all dying is?
Remember how I’d scold you
when the stew was thin, believing
I needed a thick stock to forge muscle
for all the work I had ahead?
Your stew would make me big again, Melinda.
Sometimes we have to trap, skin and roast
possum, rabbit, snake and squirrel.
Except for that, I have swallowed naught
but salt pork and coarse meal in all my days
away from you.  But I work just fine.
Ever your beloved husband.

Dungy’s poems tell this story—and many others—leaving us wanting more, and sensing that there is much more.  The poems  are real and true because she has researched and developed these  narratives  in her imagination over time.  She has lived with these characters and holds them close to her heart.  As a reader, you can’t ask for a richer and more provocative experience than to take in these gorgeous and wrenching poems.

We are very fortunate Camille Dungy will be with us at the 2014 Festival and we are especially excited for her events with students and teachers who come on Teacher Day and High School Student Day.


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: Rita Dove

Posted on by Martin Farawell, Program Directory, Poetry

Listen to Rita Dove read “American Smooth” at the 2010 Dodge Poetry Festival.

It’s widely known that poet Rita Dove is the youngest person, and the first African-American, to be appointed United States Poet Laureate. Her biographies inevitably offer some sampling of her long list of honors, including the Pulitzer Prize. Probably less widely known is what is made evident by “American Smooth:” she is a trained competitive ballroom dancer. Her devotion to this other art offers some insight into her approach to poetry.

Paul Valery once wrote that “Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking.” This is often paraphrased and oversimplified into “prose is about getting somewhere while poetry is about the journey.” The implication is that prose is utilitarian, practical and efficient, while poetry disregards these qualities for the sake of the pleasure of movement for its own sake.

Poetry is at least as utilitarian, practical and efficient as prose. The difference between the two is that prose is the preferred medium when we know what we want to say: it is the language of the already known. (Try to imagine an instruction manual written in verse.) We use poetry to approach the unknown, the unsayable. (As soon as prose attempts this, we inevitably describe it as poetic or creative because it must use the qualities of poetry to do so.)

Dance, like poetry, is also efficient and trying very hard to get somewhere, but it is attempting to reach an unreachable place. (How does one “walk” toward accepting the death of a great love?) Dance and poetry use sound, shape, movement and rhythm to express the inexpressible.

But a dancer or choreographer who uses superfluous, merely decorative movement to display technique limits the range of response and engagement with the audience. If we are more consciously attentive to a dancer’s technique than we are immersed in the dance itself, we have been pulled up into our analytical minds and cut off from a deeper connection, even if only for an instant.

For Rita Dove, the dance, like the poem, must be intimate and personal. Yet, the Tango, one of the most intimate and passionate of all dances, is also an intricate form that requires years of disciplined practice to master. The novice dancer learns by counting the steps in her head until they become part of her muscle memory. The novice poet, too, must awkwardly count out her steps, whether writing formal or free-verse, until they can be executed with apparent effortlessness.

The dancers Dove admires, like Gregory Hines and Fred Astaire, are those who make it look easy. “Which is what we want to do in poetry, too,” she says. “This is what we slave over.” The result is that Dove’s poems move fluidly into the lives and narratives of others. Her poetry is marked by a deep empathy for those too often forgotten by history. It is as if the discipline of mastering poetic form allows for a letting go of the self, and the technical challenge surmounts any self-consciousness regarding one’s capacity to enter into another’s experience.

In this sense, the demands of the poetic form, like those of a complex dance, can be tremendously liberating. Writing sonnets, villanelles and free-verse, Dove can take on multiple personas in a single volume, including one who seems to speak from the poet’s own experiences, and move apparently effortlessly among them.  This adaptability is evident in all her collections, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Thomas and Beulah, On the Bus with Rosa Parks, American Smooth and, most recently, Sonata Mulattica.

Visit Rita Dove’s homepage for a comprehensive biography.  A generous selection of her poems can be found on the Poetry Foundation website.


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: Sean Thomas Dougherty

Posted on by Rebecca Gambale, Poetry Online Communications Coordinator

“There are arias everywhere, my brother.” That might as well be Sean Thomas Dougherty’s mantra. Growing up in working class New Hampshire, laboring at blue collar jobs throughout his life in factories and warehouses, Dougherty eventually set his sights on poetry. He may have left this blue collar background, but it did not leave him. The rhythms of the streets and the music of the everyday, of factories and of work, all permeate his poetry, finally melding together for a unique mix of the academic and the workaday.

In his poem “Arias,” this balance is most apparent. The line between high art and low art is all but destroyed, and the listener is guided by the rhythm of Dougherty’s voice, which transcends all of those designations. There is music in the street, and he is interested in capturing it, embracing and experiencing all of it. “Every window a tenor leans, / there are sopranos in the olive branches.”

He takes the hometown of Pavarotti, who represents the high art of opera, and elevates the music all around him on the street to the level of “arias” – a fine piece of music in the larger context of an opera. The word aria is derived from the Greek and Latin ‘aer’ meaning “atmosphere” which is very appropriate here. This is the atmosphere all around him, and each thing the speaker notices is tied to a sound – blossoming into a beautiful sound in the poem.

“The boys with tattoos
ride their skateboards, skipping curbs,

and there is a music to their wheels, a screech,
a scat and scatter, a turntable cutting La Bohème.”

There is music there.

“Can you hear them ghosting through the Laundromat steam,
with the clack of cue balls in the pool halls,

at the CITGO station when the gas glugs,
where one-legged Jethro waits outside

on the curb, humming while smoking a cigarette?”

There are arias everywhere.


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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Keeping Farms and Sustainable Fare in the Garden State

Posted on by Donna Drewes, Sustainable Jersey

Sustainable Jersey hosts farm-to-table dinner on July 31

For me, summer is tomatoes straight from my garden, peaches from Terhune Orchards and Flying Fish’s seasonal Farmhouse Summer Ale. Although some outsiders may scoff at our license plates that hail New Jersey as the Garden State, we know better. Farming is an important part of New Jersey’s identity.

Donna Drewes

Preserving Farms and Farmland

Food and agriculture is New Jersey’s third largest industry. Our farms keep New Jersey beautiful while providing jobs and tax revenue that is critical to our economy. That’s why New Jersey is supporting its farms legislatively. Towns are helping farmers by adopting right-to-farm ordinances, which allow farming in residential areas without many restrictions.

Also, the 1999 Garden State Preservation Trust Act is the largest of its kind in the nation. The act allows farm owners to sell development rights in exchange for a guarantee that the land, even if sold, will remain working farmland. According to a statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind, co-sponsored by the New Jersey Farm Bureau, 83 percent of New Jersey residents support the continuation of public funding for the preservation of open space and farmland. That’s a large percentage.

As part of Sustainable Jersey’s certification program, municipalities get points toward their certification if they have completed a Farmland Preservation Plan. Of the currently certified towns, 17 municipalities have done the Farmland Preservation Plan action and 61 towns have done the Community or School Garden action.  Check out the towns that have done these actions and read their plans. This information is available on the Sustainable Jersey Participating Communities page; for the search, select Food Actions to bring up the list.

In addition to farmland preservation, it’s also important to support our farmers. Some people say that farmers are more in danger of extinction than the actual lands, due to shrinking profit margins, conflicts with residential neighbors and extreme weather. In New Jersey, our leading restaurants are turning to local farms to provide fresh, locally grown produce. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is growing in popularity with residents. In a CSA, a group of people pledge to support a farm operation in advance of the growing season. In return, they receive shares of the farm’s bounty throughout the season.  Here’s a list of NJ CSAs provided by the NJ Department of Agriculture.

Sustainable Fare for Sustainable Jersey Farm-to-Table Dinner

Sustainable Fare for Sustainable Jersey is a farm-to-table dining event that celebrates all of these important players — the farmers, the restaurants serving local produce and the eaters who love good food and bluegrass music. I definitely fall into the third category.

The ticket price is tax-deductible and proceeds benefit Sustainable Jersey. This year we have nine chefs that have stepped up to contribute their talents and a course at the event.

This year’s chefs include:

The meal will be limited to New Jersey sourced ingredients and will once again feature Terhune Orchard’s award winning wines. Diners will be treated to an overview of each course by the chef that prepared it, as well as an explanation of its wine pairing by Gary Mount of Terhune Orchards. The Riverside Band, a local five-piece acoustic string band, will play throughout the meal, and diners will be sent home with local produce grown right on the farm.

Pam Mount, owner of Terhune Orchards and chair of the Sustainable Jersey Board of Directors said, “The night will be a great celebration of local food and wonderful chefs who are known for their dedication to focusing on fresh local ingredients. The event has been a big hit the last two years and we are happy to be hosting it again at our farm.”  Watch the one-minute video of Pam Mount giving an overview of the event.

Join me on July 31 at Sustainable Fare for Sustainable Jersey to support Sustainable Jersey and celebrate the farms and farmland that have earned us our reputation as the Garden State. Tickets are going fast so, REGISTER FOR SUSTAINABLE FARE FOR SUSTAINABLE JERSEY today.

Connect with Sustainable Jersey on its Website and Facebook page.

Donna Drewes is one of the principals that founded and now co-directs Sustainable Jersey. She is a professional planner with nearly 30 years of experience in sustainable development and natural resource management planning.

Posted in Arts, Community Building, Food & Food Systems, Green Ideas, Sustainable Jersey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment