This past Friday, during the morning readings in NJPAC’s Prudential Hall, I came on stage to introduce the third reader and saw that the hall was filled, to the fourth tier, with students. We’d started out with a good crowd, but the upper tiers had filled so quietly we hadn’t noticed. In a space packed with 2,800 high school students and their teachers, there was complete silence during the readings.
It’s tempting now to write something about the power of poetry. But any attempt to label or define what was happening in that space at that time would only diminish it. So I will simply repeat: there were 2,800 high school students and their teachers listening to poetry in silence.
During that hour, this was taking place in NJPAC’s Victoria Theater and Chase Room, the First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church, Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral, the North Star Academy Great Room, the Center for Arts Education auditorium and other spaces.
When the reading was over, I invited those in the lower seats to turn around and look into the upper tiers. They broke into applause. Why? For the quality of their own listening? For the surprise of having shared such an experience with so many and to celebrate that moment by acknowledging each other?
I don’t know. I do know such moments of shared listening happened over and over during the four day Festival. What is there to express about witnessing this but gratitude? Gratitude for the listeners, for the poets, for our partners at NJPAC, the City of Newark and all the neighborhood venues that made a place for us, for the Dodge staff and trustees, for the tech crews and volunteers, for the Dodge Poets and Poetry Program staff.
Thanks for being there, for helping all of us remember together that what Wallace Stevens called “the voice that is great within us” still speaks out and we still listen.
For more information on the Dodge Poetry Festival and Program, please visit dodgepoetry.org.