The Dodge Poetry team thought long and hard about how we could sustain the energy and excitement from the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark this year, because of our deep commitment to and special fondness for the city. Having been raised in the North Ward, I know firsthand there is no such thing as enough opportunities to experience the arts and poetry throughout Brick City. Newark thrives on art and poetry—particularly with a Mayor committed to both. Especially downtown, Newark is expanding and growing at a very fast rate—so how do we, Dodge Poetry, continue to be present for Newark’s continued revival and its community? And, how do we give back to a city that generously offers its people, streets and venues as poetry resources throughout our four-day Festival? One easy answer is: do what we do best by bringing poetry into the schools.
Dodge’s Newark Poetry Festival was born out of the amazingly generous support of Newark Public Schools, the Victoria Foundation, Rutgers University-Newark, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. On Monday, October 16, 2017, the historic Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers University-Newark hosted close to 500 Newark Public School high school students and teachers which included thirteen high school campuses: American History High School, Arts High School, Barringer Academy of S.T.E.A.M., Barringer Academy of the Arts & Humanities, Central High School, Eagle Academy for Young Men, East Side High School, Malcolm X. Shabazz High School, Science Park High School, Technology High School, University High School, Weequahic High School, and West Side High School.
Beginning at 9 a.m., buses began to arrive and there was a high-spirited buzz, with students wishing us all good morning, ready to get their fill of poems and music throughout the day. And our eight poets delivered the same excited energy back to these students! The day’s line-up included poets Marina Carreira (Newark native), Kyle Dargan (Newark native), Jonterri Gadson, Ellen Hagan, Robert Hylton (Newark native), Kurtis Lamkin, Jasmine Mans (Newark native), and Vincent Toro . (You can learn more about each poet by checking out our special Ask a Poet blog series, which ran from the end of the summer until the week of the Mini Festival.) It was important that our line-up’s diversity be reflective of this rich city, as well as some poets who started out just like these students—sitting in a chair in front of wordsmiths that mirror themselves.
Schools had personalized schedules, and were greeted and guided room to room by NJPAC’s wonderful and cheerful volunteers. These schedules allowed them to experience one group reading in the main auditorium, as well as smaller break-out sessions where students could deeply engage with the poets in a personal way. Students had an opportunity to experience a little bit of all the poets’ styles, and sessions included: Poetry, Music & Storytelling; Poetry and Social Justice; On the Life of a Poet; and Brick City Roots, with Newark native poets discussing their poetic journey. Dodge Poetry even designed a special session in the Robeson’s Dance Theater, Giving Poems a Voice, where students were encouraged to share their own poems that they had brought with them, all facilitated by a poet. Each student also received a handy Student Kit for the day, which included pages filled with poems and bios of the performing poets for the day.
This Newark Poetry Festival was indeed a celebration of poetry, as well as an opportunity for Newark Public School students to create, experiment, listen deeply, and be engaged provocatively. I remain hopeful that the day’s conversations and performances will have left students feeling positively challenged to see the world through yet another lens.