Poetry Fridays: A Place for Poetry

Posted on by Dodge

Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry

A number of years ago, Founding Director Jim Haba wrote of the Dodge Poetry Festival that it provided “a space in which poetry can assume its rightful place at the center of our imaginative and emotional lives.” For more than two decades, that space existed for a few days in the Festival’s “Poetry Village,” which seemed to magically appear and disappear during every even-numbered year.

Of course, the Festival did not appear by magic. It took vision, imagination, determination, persistence, and even downright stubbornness. It took dozens of people working, sometimes to the point of near delirium from exhaustion, to make it happen. Although no magic was involved, a miracle of sorts was: During decades when poetry was consistently the poorest funded of all the arts, the Dodge Foundation sponsored a Festival that grew to be widely recognized as the largest poetry event in North America.

But the rising cost of producing the Festival came up against the harsh realities of the recent stock market crash. Earlier this year, David Grant, Dodge’s President and CEO, had the painful task of announcing that the Foundation could no longer sustain a Festival of its previous scale at Waterloo Village.

And then something utterly unpredictable happened.

Within days of that announcement, Dodge received a call from Joe Hartnett, Montclair’s Township Manager, proposing we partner with Montclair to save the Festival. Then we heard from Anne LaBate, Chair of the Arts and Business Council of Greater Trenton, urging us to consider the State Capitol. By the time Newark and Asbury Park contacted us, we were coming to the startling and inspiring realization that the people of New Jersey were not going to allow the Festival to go gentle into that good night.

We released a “Request for Proposals from Potential Partners” in the spring, and heard from a dozen New Jersey communities, received proposals from eight, put together a Poetry Committee of staff and trustees, and spent the summer months reviewing proposals and scouting sites. What we found on our visits were people from all over the state who were eager to help “save the Festival.” Their passion and determination refutes any claims that poetry is a fringe art with a small audience.

With Anne LaBate and Kathleen Crotty of the State Capitol Joint Management Commission as our tireless, patient and knowledgeable Trenton guides, the Dodge Poetry Committee had a first-class tour of our gorgeously restored Capitol District. Joe Hartnett, Eileen Sheehan and the many folks from Montclair who met with us reminded us what a vibrant cultural center Montclair is, with its beautiful churches, its arts, historical and literary organizations, its shops, galleries and many restaurants.

To witness, first-hand, the amazing rejuvenation of Asbury Park’s downtown, to be reminded that one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets made his home in Rutherford, and to discover the architectural and cultural gems of Dodge’s hometown of Morristown, led all of us on the Poetry Committee to feel we had rediscovered our home state.

Because these towns and cities had so much to offer, and because their representatives were so enthusiastic and dedicated, it was far more difficult to narrow our options and make a final choice than we could have anticipated. Eight months ago, we had sadly come to the conclusion that we might not be able to hold a Festival at all. Here we were in September, feeling there were half a dozen viable locations to choose from.

We found ourselves in this enviable position because of the enthusiastic support of the residents of New Jersey. That Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg all made New Jersey their home is not the only reason the state of poetry is strong in the Garden State. The Dodge Foundation has nurtured poetry for over two decades. The poetry community Dodge nurtured for so many years came together to rescue the Festival. The seeds Founding Dodge Executive Director Scott McVay and Jim Haba planted all those years ago when they envisioned the first Dodge Festival in 1986 have flourished. They should be justly pleased that this gift to poetry and the world will live on.

Those of us who have attended the Festival know it was never confined by its duration of a mere four days, or by the boundaries of Waterloo Village or Duke Farms. The Festival, like poetry itself, lived on in the thousands who had gathered and listened together under those tents. And now it moves to one of our nation’s most diverse and complex cities, with a rich heritage and history.

Newark started out as New Ark, its name a symbol of hope in the New World. Its churches served as field hospitals for both the Colonial and British armies during the Revolutionary War. The waves of immigration, the Industrial Age, the Great Migration, and the tumult of the 1960’s were all played out here. Its decades-long climb back to its place as the cultural center of the state is an amazing American story. The Dodge Foundation is proud to partner with NJPAC and the people and passion of Newark itself in bringing the Dodge Festival to Newark in the autumn of 2010.

Visit dodgepoetry.org in the months ahead for further details, and to sign up for our e-mailing list to receive the latest news.

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10 Responses to Poetry Fridays: A Place for Poetry

  1. […] Read the original: Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation » Blog Archive » Poetry Fridays: A … […]

  2. Jane Freeman says:

    YAY! YAY! YAY! We at Solomon Schechter Day School are sooo delighted. We are
    hoping that you will be able to avoid selecting dates that conflict with the Jewish holy days in September (which would preclude us and others from attending): 9th and 10th, 23rd and 24th area the main obstructions. (There are also other days, such as the 30th, but at least that would leave us a Friday to bring students. The other four dates would not permit us to bring students on any days of the festival.) I know there are many calendar considerations when planning such an event, but because of our passion for the festival, I felt compelled to write. Thank you so much. Best wishes. SIncerely, Jane Freeman

  3. Jack Wiler says:

    Martin, what a wonderful essay on the central event in the poetic life of New Jersey. All of us are grateful to you, David, Newark, and everyone who worked so hard to save the Festival.

  4. Ginny Tucker says:

    I am thrilled to see the poetry festival return- I was heartsick at the thought of it’s very large absence. I look forward to next year! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  5. I was one of the people who refused to let the festival die! However much I applaud the people of Newark for their struggle to recreate their city, I am uneasy about such a troubled urban setting. The comments that this will be an “urban poetry festival” have me worried that this will be more about “urban” (I.e. protest and social problems) than about POETRY in ALL of its manifestations, which is what Jim Haba created for us. I read the call for proposals and I hope and pray that the small settings in the tents which are the heart of the festival will somehow be preserved. Anyone can buy a ticket to sit in a large auditorium far away from contact with the poets. Up close and personal is what made the Festival a magic place!

  6. Laura Boss says:

    I felt great joy as I’m certain every other poet and lover of poetry did on reading David Grant’s letter that the Dodge Poetry Festival would return in 2010 –and return in our
    largest and most exciting city Newark. And I am so grateful to those who worked so hard to keep
    what Jim Haba the founder and his staff supported by the Dodge Foundation had built into the largest and most superb poetry festival in North America–one that enriched and affected the quality of life of students, teachers, poets, and just lovers of poetry in the deepest way possible and was contagious in the best sense of the word. Martin Farawell’s insightful, intelligent, and moving essay perfectly expresses what a major impact the Dodge Poetry Festival has been and will continue to be to anyone who loves poetry.

  7. Arthur Demarais says:

    This is wonderful news. When I grew up in surburban NJ in the 50’s and early 60’s Newark was the “big city” of our state; before the riots and resulting collective despair. The meeting of the festival and the re-emerginng Newark is perfect. Thank you to everyone who makes this happen. I live in Vermont, the father of a poet and a theatre artist; I’ve been to a couple of the festivals at Waterloo, and promise to be at this one.

  8. It is truly a joy to know how much the rich experiences of the Dodge Poetry Festival have been appreciated by New Jersey town officers — that the sounds of poetic voices have reached well beyond the many poets and teachers who’ve been part of those marvelous days. Martin Farawell’s essay expands that feeling of joy.
    I believe the choice of Newark for the 2010 site will be a boost in self-esteem to that city, and introduction to many people of its cultural value.

  9. Jean Potters says:

    I am thrilled to learn that the festival will continue. Although I am not sure what to expect in the space at NJPAC, I certainly plan to attend and find out!

  10. Madeline Tiger says:

    At last I have been able to see the original blog and receive the good news. Thank you, Martin, and thank you, Khalil. Your tireless efforts have made an immeasurable contribution to all of us—writers and listeners from all over the state, from all over the country, “and beyond.” The festivals and all the other activities of the Poetry Project have made a vivid impact in the schools and the communities at-large. Those of us who have been visiting as artists in schools and other institutions for many years have certainly been aware of the creative effects of Dodge Poetry. The Festival “village” had always been at the center of our work, and of the growing enthusiasm and support for poetry; and now—in our new times—a new venue, a new style, a new burst of excitement. Bravo! Personal note: my father was born and raised in Newark; he went to Barringer High School with Louie Ginsberg (Louie was the “serious poet” of their years, my father was—whatever they called the occasional poet!) When my father was a boy he used to climb on the statue of Abraham Lincoln, in front of the courthouse, and believed that when he was a grown man, all the people in that city would live as equals.

    I’ve lived in the city or within 10 or 20 miles of Newark almost all my life, and have been in many of the schools there—-for some of the most rewarding residencies I’ve ever had. At the same time, during the 70s and 80s, I worked with Upward Bound students from Newark, in the summer program at Seton Hall; some of those teenagers knew Amiri Baraka from the neighborhood, or they had babysat for his kids; but they never knew his poetry. Imagine! We changed that! Some of those same Upward Bound students went on to become teachers and counselors themselves.
    My most recent assignment in Newark was at the Chancellor Avenue School, where we had challenging and exciting times with poetry and performance. I love working in that city, the children are amazingly responsive; and… my roots are there.
    Marge Barnes visited me at Chancellor Avenue one day and was moved by what she witnessed; she knows that area very well, she went to Weequaic High School right next door, on Chancellor Avenue.
    Marge knows EVERYBODY in the arts in Newark, as you probably know already. She’s even done summertime projects in the streets of some neighborhoods, and she knows many, many upcoming poets around town.
    I’m sure that she’ll be uniquely helpful to your 2010 Festival.
    Needless to say, I hope that you will call on me for whatever help I can lend to the development and realization of Festival plans.

    Very sincerely,
    Madeline

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