Behind the Scenes at the Dodge Poetry Festival

Posted on by Meghan Jambor


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Fifteen poets kicked off the 15th Biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival Thursday morning at the first Poetry Sampler of the day.

Prudential Hall at NJPAC was packed with hundreds of teachers who attended for a discounted $10 ticket fee. In addition to poet readings and conversations, the day includes special programming aimed at teaching poetry.

This is the sixth Dodge Poetry Festival Bill Goncalo, 52, of Fall River, Mass., has attended. The English teacher at Diman Regional High School says coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival is like “recharging my battery.”

“The paperwork, the curriculum, this gets me back to what I love about teaching,” Goncalo says. “This is the stuff that makes you whole.”

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One of the poets Goncalo came to see is legendary environmental poet Gary Snyder. Snyder joined poets Yusef Komunyakaa and Alice Oswald Thursday morning for a conversation titled “The Voice That Is Great.”

Snyder read his 13-word poem “A Dent in a Bucket” first, followed by several other short works.

“I love the way a long poem and a short poem are the same length,” Oswald said in response during the session. “They both have to be infinite.”

But it was a reading by poet Natalie Diaz during the morning sampler that sparked in Goncalo what he described as a “teardrop moment.”

In “Why I Hate Raisins” — what Diaz called an “ode to government food” — she describes growing up poor and eating a whole box of raisins that makes her sick. Her mother quiets her when she complains they cannot afford sandwiches, like the white kids she knows. Reflecting back on that memory as an adult, she realizes her mother went without any raisins that day.

“It caught me off guard,” Goncalo says. “I love that about poetry, that it can stir you.”

Madison High School English teacher Doug Oswin, 26, has been coming to the Festival since he was a student at Lenape Valley Regional High School.

“I love how mysterious poetry is. There’s a feeling that overwhelms me when I hear it performed that I can’t explain,” Oswin says.

Oswin said he just completed reading “Beowulf” with his students, calling the epic poem “The Jersey Shore” of the time.

“I like to connect poetry with what society needs,” Oswin said. “The students understand that, understand the value of poetry as essential to our being.”

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During an afternoon conversation with poets Richard Blanco, Sharon Olds and Stephen Kuusisto, an audience member asked about the confessional nature of poetry.

“I never feel exposed in my poetry,” Blanco said. “You develop a persona in your poems. It’s like someone that’s not you and you at the same time. … There’s something about looking at yourself as someone else that is a relief.”

Olds, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for her unflinching accounts of the human body, said she doesn’t consider herself a confessional poet.

“I see myself as a complaining poet,” she quipped. “There is something weird and wonderful about me that I’m not embarrassed. … Something happens when it’s art.”

For more information and live coverage of the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival, visit DodgePoetry.org, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter #DPF14 and Instagram. 

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#DPF14 Social Spotlight

Posted on by Dodge

Can’t be at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, which kicked off this morning and continues through Sunday at nine venues in Newark’s Downtown Arts District?
Follow along like never before by tuning in via social media. We’re rounding up news, photos, links and tweets from the Poetry Festival. Add yours with #DPF14 by posting to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram:

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Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival Kicks Off Thursday in Newark

Posted on by Dodge

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We hope you will join us at the 15th biennial Dodge Poetry Festival, our third held in Newark’s Downtown Arts District. Kicking off Thursday with a poetry sampler featuring 15 poets, the four days of the Festival will include 120 events and over 70 award-winning poets from all across the country and some from overseas.
IMG_142The Poetry Festival features Main Stage Readings by: Richard Blanco, Billy Collins, Natalie Diaz, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sharon Olds, Robert Pinsky, Tracy K. Smith, Gary Snyder, Brian Turner, Kevin Young and many more!

The Poetry Festival Bookstore will be in the Chase Room at NJPAC, and Festival merchandise will be for sale in NJPAC’s lobby. Look for poet book signings throughout the festival there, as well.

Be sure to look for the Dodge Poetry Festival Green Team, who will be helping attendees recycle and compost all waste. Learn more about the zero-waste effort underway here.

Special events include:

  • Thursday’s POETRY SAMPLERS: Get a wide sampling of the Festival Poets who’ll be participating in the Festival. Fifteen Festival Poets will read in the morning Poetry Sampler, and Twenty–four will read in the evening. The Poetry Samplers are always one of the highlights of the program, and one of the most popular events. Each poet will read for five to six minutes.
  •  Friday’s POETRY AND SONG: In these sessions, poets, songwriters and musicians collaborate in performance and explore such questions as: What might we discover if we explore poetry and song as points on a spectrum as opposed to distinct art forms? How do they influence and inform each other? What possibilities arise if we question the boundaries between them?
  • Saturday night’s ANOTHER KIND OF COURAGE: Classic war stories often evolve around finding the courage to enter battle, but there is another kind of courage required of veterans and their families as they face the impact and aftermath of war. For this special performance, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson and Brian Turner are joined by veterans who’ve participated in the Warrior Writers and Combat Paper workshops, and by poets Jehanne Dubrow, Elyse Fenton, Charles H. Johnson, Gardner McFall and musicians and singers from the Tomás Doncker and Parkington Sisters bands.
  • Sunday’s POETRY AND THE PRACTICE OF THE WILD: Poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder has written that poets, by the nature of their art, are closer to the fundamental elements of being alive—birth, love, death, —and that this could (and should) lead to a greater attentiveness to the natural world. In this reading and informal conversation with Dodge’s Environmental Director Margaret Waldock, Snyder will share a lifetime’s worth of experience exploring the relationship between poetry and our connection to the world, and how this informs our sense of our place in the animal kingdom, nature, the wild, and geological history.
  • Sunday’s A TRIBUTE TO AMIRI BARAKA featuring Billy Collins, Natalie Diaz, Rita Dove, Juba Dowdell, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson, Mia X and other poets and guests celebrate the work of Amiri Baraka.

For more information and live coverage of the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival, visit DodgePoetry.org, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter #DPF14 and Instagram.

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Dodge Q&A: Martin Farawell on the Dodge Poetry Festival

Posted on by Dodge

The Dodge Q&A series is designed to introduce you to Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation staff as they share what they’re learning and thinking about as they visit with nonprofits around the state. They’ll also reveal a few things about themselves you might not have known.

With the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival coming up on Oct. 23 to 26 (full details here), we will be speaking to some of the people who help make it happen or who will be playing a special role. 

Today we talk to Martin Farawell, Poetry Program Director. 

140602_dodgeWhat led you to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program?

I was a graduate student studying with Galway Kinnell in NYU’s creative writing program when he told the class about this poetry festival happening in New Jersey. He and Sharon Olds, who also taught in the program, were both going to be there. I lived in Montclair at the time and decided to check it out.

It was the first time I heard Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Carolyn Kizer, Stanley Kunitz, Derek Walcott, Mary Oliver and others read in person.

Some of the poets were living legends. Others were local New Jersey poets like me. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of walking into the first 1986 Dodge Poetry Festival and knowing you were with your tribe. Poetry was much more of a fringe art 30 years ago. What can I say? I’ve been to all four days of every Dodge Festival ever since. I brought my own students when I taught high school and college. Read as a poet in 1996. Worked as a Festival Assistant in 1998 and never left.

What is your favorite part about planning the Dodge Poetry Festival?

Discovering new voices. We spend a lot of time reviewing every submission people send us. And we do review everything. Much of my time is spent listening to recordings, watching videos online, going to readings, reading poetry.

I’m amazed at the number of poets who are writing original, powerful, imaginative, moving poems who are virtually unknown or, at least, unknown outside of their local areas. There are always far more poets we want to invite than we could possibly have space for in any given year. Anyone who thinks poetry isn’t very much alive in contemporary America simply doesn’t know what’s going on out there. We’re in a renaissance.

On par with this is the actual work of putting together the program itself. You spend months going over the work of these poets, and when you start putting them together into readings and panel talks, there’s this excitement of realizing something very exciting is coming together. I’m reminded of something the late great theatrical director Paul Barry used to say, that 90 percent of a director’s job is casting. You get that right, and everything else is easy. That’s how I feel about the Festival Poets. You get the right ones together, and the rest is easy. Of course, I get tremendous help from the Poetry staff at every stage of this work. They make this look easy.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

This may sound like an evasive answer, but it’s not. What I’m most looking forward to is the Festival itself. By that I mean the energy and sense of community that is the Dodge Festival. For four days, thousands of poets and people who care about poetry, or who are just curious about it, come together and do some of the most intense listening of their lives.

The poet Li-Young Lee paused in the middle of one of his readings at Dodge to say, “You can almost hear the listening.” You’re in them idle of this rare paradox. Each person is having their own private experience, connecting with one other human being, the poet. But they’re having that private connection in a very public setting, surrounded by thousands of other people going through their own private experience.

This is what a great poetry reading shares with great theater: it’s completely private and personal, and yet a shared and communal. This is true of all powerful experiences in life. Birth, love, death are universal experiences. There’s nothing unique about them, but at the same time they are intimately personal, profoundly our own when we live through them.

This will be the third year the Dodge Poetry Festival will be held in Newark. Do you have any recommendations for things to do for festival-goers who have never been to Newark?

While they’re here, they should go to the Dodge Poetry Festival! And by that I mean all nine venues. The churches, the Newark Museum, the New Jersey Historical Society, Military Park, Aljira — there is amazing architecture in Downtown Newark, and the churches have a rich history. Visiting them is worth the trip. And the Newark Museum is a gem. It has the largest collection of Tibetan art outside of Tibet!

What attendees should do is discover all the reasons they have to come back. NJPAC has a world-class concert hall. I don’t think many New Jerseyans realize what a stunning space it is, and the line-up of performers they bring in there is amazing.

What does poetry mean to you? Do you consider yourself a poet?

I think poetry is the essence of what makes us human: the capacity to make metaphor, to see in our imaginations, without the actual objects in front of us, that this is like that, or the opposite, this is not like that, is the beginning of human thought.

Poetry is the attempt to say the unsayable. That’s what all human speech is, a series of abstract symbols meant to convey some sense of our experience of what it means to be a creature living on the earth. The first hominid who shaped a sound to represent an abstract idea or emotion was creating the first metaphor, the first poem. The moment our minds developed that capacity, and it’s actually much more complicated than merely the capacity to speak, we began to become human.

Poetry has existed in every known culture in history, and the first preserved texts in writing were poems. That we’ve never lost poetry over the millennia, despite the development of fiction, theater, radio, film, television, computer games, virtual realities, is proof of how much it is a part of our natures. The huge groundswell of interest in poetry we see among young people in recent decades — we witness this all the time in our visits to high schools — is a direct response to the pervasiveness of computers and personal devices, which are quite impersonal. It’s as if young people know something essential is missing, and poetry provides that.

Do I consider myself a poet? I started writing poetry when I was 10 years old. By 13, I knew this was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. I’m still working at it. So either I’m a poet or a hopeless optimist.

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2014 Featured Festival Poet: C. Dale Young

Posted on by Michele Russo, Poetry Coordinator

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Measured and precise. Reflective and kind. The artistry in C. Dale Young’s poems resonate with his “real” job. Young is a physician–an oncology radiologist–and has said that because of the demands of his work, he only writes four or five poems a year and works continuously on them until they are complete. His commitment and sustained focus comes through in the poems—you hear the care he has given them and they feel contained and whole.

Many of C. Dale Young’s poems directly address his work as a physician. The interior view of a physician is not a perspective we are afforded very often—we think of doctors almost as things there to serve us and in our times of need, we can forget that while they are caring for us and our loved ones, they are also having a human experience themselves. Technically, the poems play with repetition of rhyme, line fragments and the ends of lines. This repetition gives the reader a chance to revisit the same territory through the course of a poem and to emphasize the importance of what might seem small details. “Torn,” the title poem for Young’s 2011 book, tells of a doctor giving stitches to young man after a hate-crime beating. The opening stanza follows:

There was the knife and the broken syringe
then the needle in my hand, the Tru-Cut
followed by the night-blue suture.

Throughout the remainder of the tightly composed poem, “the needle and the night-blue suture trailing behind it” reappears. And there is a turn in the poems’ voice, where the narrator takes over and reveals the extra care he provides:

Even though I knew there were others to be seen,
I sat there and slowly threw each stitch.
There were always others to be seen. There was

always the bat and the knife…

The intention and focus of the speaker amidst a troubling reality, is resonant with Young’s intentionality as a poet. In interviews, he is equally thoughtful and careful. There doesn’t seem to be a single wasted utterance or half-conceived thought. We look forward to welcoming C. Dale Young to the Festival for the first time.   You can find more of his poems on his website and at The Poetry Foundation.

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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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