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

Dodge Green Roof Garden: It’s a cucumber bonanza! Plus, an easy pepper frittata recipe

Posted on by Meghan Jambor

It’s peak cucumber season here at the Dodge Green Roof Garden.

It seems like yesterday we planted the cucumber seedlings in our bins. We watched their vines creep to fill our containers so bountifully we had to erect a trellis they could climb and cut them back a bit so they wouldn’t totally take over our the rest of our vegetables. Today, all that growth has paid off: the thick canopy of leaves hide a plethora of cucumbers in all stages of growth.

Cucumbers are ready to be picked when the spiny, bumpy skin smooths out. We like to pick them when they are still small, as cucumbers can turn from just right to ripe overnight. The best part about cucumber plants is the more you pick them, the more they grow!

We love cucumbers’ sweet, refreshing flavor. So far, I’ve spotted colleagues noshing on them whole as a handheld snack and sliced with sour cream and dill in a salad.

The rest of our garden is coming along nicely, as well. Our tomato plants have more than tripled in size. Though not yet ripe, we’re watching the green fruits grow bigger each day.

Another highlight is our snapdragons — adding splashes of pink, white, and deep red brighten up the rooftop and, as you may have seen on our Instagram account, our reception desk.

The first vegetable to fruit in our garden was our Italian frying peppers (and they are still coming in nicely!). Here’s a simple meal you can make for Sunday brunch or Monday dinner, using an endless combination of vegetables and herbs fresh from the garden. Feel free to substitute with onions, tomatoes, or anything else on hand that sounds good.

Dodge recipe: Italian pepper frittata


  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 1-2 peppers Italian frying peppers (or whatever peppers you have on hand)
  • Handful of basil
  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil


  • Put the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced scallions and peppers and cook 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the scallions and peppers to coat the bottom of the pan.
  • Sprinkle the cheese and basil over the top and cook, undisturbed, until the eggs are barely set, about 5 to 10 minutes. You can set them further by putting the pan in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes.
  • Voila!

You can read more about all the veggies, flowers and herbs we planted in our Green Roof Garden and see pictures of its first week here.

Check back throughout the season for more pictures of its progress, and some of our favorite recipes.

In the meantime, share what’s blooming in your garden below in the comments section.

Posted in Food & Food Systems, Green Roof Garden | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2014 Featured Festival Poet: Mark Doty

Posted on by Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry

In Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Mark Doty’s book-length meditation on art and poetry, he concludes that poems exist “as advocates of intimacy, as embodiments of paradox, as witnesses to earth, here, this moment, now. Evidence, thus, that tenderness and style are still the best gestures we can make in the face of death.” You don’t have to look far to find an example of what he means; just listen to him read his own poem, “Messiah (Christmas Portions).”

Tenderness toward the Earth and to his fellow inhabitants upon it is a central feature of many of Mark Doty’s poems. An embodiment of paradox, “Messiah (Christmas Portions)” reminds us that awe-full is the source of awful. And Doty’s is an awe-full and an awful tenderness, at once subsumed with the beauty and the brevity of everything: the sunset, the performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” and even the lifetime given to the speaker in the poem whose assertion “still time,” is also a recognition that one day he/she will no longer have time to change.

For Doty, the creation of a work of art is not a mere pastime or entertainment. His answer to the oft-repeated question “Do you have to suffer to be an artist?” seems to be: Everyone suffers, whether they are an artist or not. But we are also given a choice: Do we create more suffering, or do we bring more beauty into the world? Doty’s poems are a testament to the power of taking a stand for beauty.

“Messiah (Christmas Portions)” can be found in Sweet Machine and in Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, winner of the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry. Mark Doty is almost as widely known as the author of several award-winning memoirs, including Heaven’s Coast, Firebird, and Dog Years.


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

Posted in Poetry, Poetry 2014 Festival, Poetry Archives, Poets, Tidbits | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment