Tips for Submitting to the Dodge Poetry Festival

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

welcome poets Photo by Alex Towle, 2018

Have you ever attended the Dodge Poetry Festival and wondered, How do those poets get chosen to be up there? Are you a poet who wants to read at the Festival and is wondering how to submit or make your submission stronger?

This post is meant to help demystify our submission process.

First, if you have submitted to read in the past and were not invited, please remember that this doesn’t mean that we didn’t like your poetry. Every Festival, our greatest challenge is narrowing down the number of poets we want to invite from submissions to the number of opportunities we have to offer.

Second, if you submit to the Dodge Poetry Festival, you can be certain your work will be read and considered carefully. We take discovering poets we have not heard before very seriously. Even though we receive hundreds of submissions from around the country (and from international poets, too), every single submission is carefully reviewed by a panel of three anonymous poets. Although this review process takes months, we refuse to cut corners, and we are always inspired and encouraged by the number of gifted poets we discover from all across the country who are doing powerful work.

Third, don’t forget that we are curating a live event. We ask for video and audio recordings because, unlike editors of print publications, we must consider how poets engage with their audience. For this reason, each panel poet begins their review of a submission with its video and/or audio recordings. If you’re submitting, it’s important to include at least one video or audio clip of you reading your work, preferably before a live audience. This does not mean that we favor performance poets or any particular style, but we do favor poets who appear to care about communicating and connecting with their listeners and readers. Some of the most riveting readings at the Festival have been given by poets who read with quiet, focused presence.

(Side note: Please don’t go to any great lengths or expense to record a professional-quality video. We know video and audio quality varies, and care more about you and your work than about your video production capacity. You can learn more on our Submission FAQs page.)

Fourth, your writing sample should provide some sense of the scope of your work beyond what’s offered in the recordings. Of course, it’s always helpful to see the text of a poem we have a recording of, but the guiding principle behind additional poems you include should be what you want us to know about your work. Only after reviewing the video and/or audio will the panelists turn to the writing sample, and then on to chapbooks or full-length collections. Some poets read at the Festival all four days, Thursday through Sunday, multiple times per day. These poets have enough material that they can keep their readings varied and fresh from session to session.

Fifth, the cover letter is your opportunity to help the panel get a sense of the perspective and experience you might bring to conversations offered at the Festival, and those you would be interested in. One of the highlights of the Festival is having the chance to see and hear poets with widely divergent backgrounds, points of view and styles reading together, having conversations and sharing stories. Our panel is always excited to invite poets who can help us offer a more inclusive sense of what’s happening in contemporary poetry.

Finally, your resumé or C.V. will be the last part of your submission that the panel reviews. Press packages and book reviews will go unread. The Dodge Poetry Festival is not an academic or professional conference, where the credentials and degrees of presenters are heavily weighed. We’re a festival, and experiencing a direct connection to poetry and living poets is at the heart of what we do. We’re more interested in you and your work than in your credentials and degrees.

To learn about the logistics of how to submit to read at the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival (scheduled for October 2020, exact dates to be determined), please visit our Submission Guidelines and Submission FAQs.

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Arts Ed Now: Exploring identity and personal narratives through art at Tuscan School

Posted on by Arts Ed Now

Collaboration and sharing of ideas are inspiring for artists of all ages, for great learning and creation in part come from the work of others.

It is always a goal in art education to utilize and explore content that is relevant to who students are and how they see themselves. Art education is an opportunity for students to engage with and to communicate their identity, their role in the world, who they want to be, and how they can make their world better. Color, line, shape, etc. of course are elements of focus.

Teaching artist Barbara M. Bickart worked with fourth grade students in Gina Garofalo’s homeroom and Andrew Dean’s art classes at Maplewood’s Tuscan School for 25 days of hands-on workshops to create and produce a video-performance installation. Tuscan School received a grant from the Artists in Education Residency Grant Program (AIE) to engage with a professional teaching artist.

This residency motivated students to develop their identity and personal narrative individually as well as what role they play within the greater context of the community. Students produced a video-performance installation focused through the prompt: “I am from…” Subsequently, they worked collaboratively, developing “We are from…” further promoting tolerance, acceptance, diversity, and positive social and community change.

However, those formal elements of art are an opportune framework for students to explore socially relevant themes. This project aimed to promote positive identity development, tolerance, acceptance, diversity, and positive social and community change through a hands-on, project-based experience. Working from a community-centered approach, students gained a sense of belonging, commitment, and responsibility to the place in which they live and learn.

This project also provided an opportunity for students to continue developing personally relevant writing skills. Students explored various mediums to express their written words in addition to their classroom writing practice.

“I made art because I like to open up conservations,” Bickart said, “We explore the fire in our bellies, who we are, what we carry with us, what we care about, a process of exploration that means being courageour and honest and vulnerable, and a project grows, the collective expression of many voices. with “I am from, we are from,” the students of Tuscan Elemendary did all of these things. They leaned way in with all of their intelligence. wisdom, honesty, and humor.”

Barbara M. Bickart

The Artists in Education Residency Grant Program is a co-sponsored project of The New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Young Audiences New Jersey & Eastern Pennsylvania. The program is carried out in partnership with regional partners, including Appel Farm Arts & Music Center and Morris Arts.

This program provides New Jersey schools with long-term artist residencies; 11 schools state-wide received AIE grants this year, including Tuscan School.

This work culminated in a live performance installation showcased Dec. 13.

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Intercultural organizational development: Leaning into change

Posted on by Beth Zemsky, Technical Assistance Faculty



Change can be challenging. It disrupts our sense of equilibrium, safety, and security. To manage change, we often try to overemphasize that which we believe we can hold constant. However, the only thing that is really constant is the ongoing state of change. Biologists call this “homeorhesis” — being in a constant state of change, development, and evolution. Organisms change and develop, people change and develop, communities change and develop — and so do our organizations.

The pace of change has escalated in the last 50 years as a result of changes in demographics, technology, globalization, and the economic, political, and social changes associated with these large-scale social forces. All indications are that the pace of change will continue to accelerate as the world continues to shrink and we are more dependent on each other for innovation, community connection, and basic resources. As this occurs, the disparities and inequities that currently exist regarding access to resources, opportunities, and social power have become ever starker.

Nonprofits with a mission to serve our diverse communities are at the forefront of trying to respond to these conditions. To do so effectively will require our organizations to adapt our strategies, programs, and internal policies, practices, and procedures to integrate competency regarding diversity, inclusion, and equity into every aspect of organizational development in order to create an organizational culture that embeds equity in all that we are and all that we do.

An important first step in advancing diversity, inclusion, and equity goals is developing and honing individual and organizational intercultural competency skills. Intercultural competency is the capacity to shift and adapt our perspectives and behaviors according to cultural contexts in order to be more effective in accomplishing our mission and goals.

Embedding a culture of equity first requires developing the skill of cultural self-awareness to make your current organizational culture transparent, including how dominant cultural norms might be unintentionally institutionalized within your organization. Utilizing this information, the next task is to intentionally work together to support the organization in becoming more proficient in seeing, thinking about, and interacting with cultural difference and shifting power differentials in increasingly complex ways.

One of the ways to do this is to center universal design in the evaluation and (re)construction of current organizational policies, procedures, and practices. Universal design is the practice of designing all organizational systems — physical, social, and economic — to focus on the experience of those who are most marginalized. By centering the experience of those who are most marginalized, we most often find that systems are created that function better for all of us.

Moving towards centering the experience of those most marginalized in our organizational planning will mean significant change for many of us. Change is often not comfortable. Like any event that people find stressful, change can be dealt with in such a way that it becomes a negative crisis. Or change can be embraced and managed so that it becomes an opportunity for positive growth and adaptations that help us achieve our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. What is clear is that we cannot have change regarding injustice unless we are willing to change ourselves and the organizations and systems in which we operate.


Types of Change

There are predictable aspects to change. However, not all change is the same. Knowing which type of change the organization is undergoing is critical to success. Three types exist, and each requires different change strategies, plans and degrees of engagement.

The three types of change are: (1) developmental, (2) transitional, and (3) transformational. Traditional project management and what is commonly called, “change management” effectively support developmental and transitional change, but they are insufficient for transformational change. Facilitating intercultural organizational development and achieving equity are examples of transformational change.

Developmental organizational change is simple movement and generally is viewed an important improvement. It may be a gradual process and it is often seen as a surface change regarding diversity; for example, increasing the numerical representation of people of color on staff without shifting the ways in which white dominant culture might be embedded in organizational culture.

Transitional change is movement from old to new, where both are known. There is a beginning and an end, but both have been defined. There can be turmoil in this situation, but the final outcome is visible.  For example: taking a new job or switching roles from employee to supervisor, or an organization may change to new computer software. Transitional change is more intrusive than developmental change as it replaces existing processes or procedures with something that is completely new to the organization. These sorts of changes are often necessary to move an organization towards a culture of inclusion. Navigating transitional change requires skills around problem solving, project planning and project management.

Transformational change may involve both developmental and transitional change. It is common for transitional and transformation change to occur in tandem. Transformational change is the most difficult to deal with because it is movement from the known to the unknown. There can be a shift in fundamental values and beliefs which lead to questions like “what do we stand for now?” “how do we do our work? and most significantly, “who forms, informs, and performs our work?” Assumptions change, and the things we take for granted change. Successful transformational change requires developing new perspectives and practices. Navigating transformational change, particularly regarding equity, requires high level skills involving self-awareness, tolerance for ambiguity, flexibility, understanding of the nature of change, and change and conflict management.

As your organization embarks on its diversity, inclusion, and equity journey, it will require you to lean into change — and the discomfort, ambiguity, innovation, adaptation, and creativity that will emerge. Good first steps would be examining your organizational culture, identifying who might be currently most marginalized in your community and by your organizational practices, and utilizing universal design principles to address these disparities to move towards more effectively achieving your mission and creating more equity.


zemskyBeth Zemsky, MAEd, LICSW, comes to her work out of her continued commitment to engage people in learning activities that move them to understand critical social and cultural issues. Building on best practice approaches, Beth specializes in intercultural organizational development with organizations working towards social change and structural transformation including foundations, non-profits, educational, health, faithbased, and social change organizations.

To learn more, we invite you to visit


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How and why your organization’s culture and values matter

Posted on by Laura Otten, Technical Assistance Faculty


Ensuring a clear, strong mission statement and equally solid core values are two of the most important policies that a board is ever asked to create, as these are the core ideology  the defining elements  ̶̶  of an organization’s culture. Unfortunately, not enough attention is given to the creation of either, and even less attention is given to the (re)enforcement of both.

A mission statement is not merely a collection of words that a board member inherits upon joining. It is a public promise that every board member agrees to protect and steward through the collective work of the board. It is imperative that before joining a board that both the candidate and the board determine the individual’s degree of commitment to that whole promise.

There is only one degree that should be acceptable  ̶̶  a passionate one. It is insufficient that any board member simply like the mission of the organization on whose board s/he sits; it is unacceptable that any board member not understand fully the purpose and work of the organization. If a board member is to do all that s/he can to ensure that the promises of that mission will be fulfilled, now and in the future, s/he must be able and willing to champion the full promise.

Sadly, boards don’t do sufficient vetting of this before bringing on new members. Too few boards insist that board candidates even witness the mission in action before inviting them onto the board.  Board members who don’t understand what the organization is all about, don’t deeply value the mission, and aren’t willing and able to always do what is best for pushing out and forwarding that mission simply do not belong there.

As previously noted, a mission statement is not window dressing, something that is framed on the wall, highlighted on the website, memorized and mechanically regurgitated. It is the living standard by which everything should be measured.  Conversely, a board’s job isn’t simply to stick with the mission indefinitely, but to regularly monitor the need for the mission and to be willing to ask—and answer—the tough and frightening question:  is our mission still needed?  To do otherwise is hardly ethical.

It is, after all, the job of a board to ensure that the organization is an ethical one; that all affiliated with the organization — from board members to the executive director to staff and other volunteers — are acting in accordance with the ethical standards dictated, and modeled, by board members. Ethical concerns go well beyond careful attention to money, ensuring that restricted dollars are used only for that specific purpose, that money is safeguarded, and invested in companies with values and ethics consistent with the organization’s, etc.  Ethics extend to, among other things, making sure the organization is trustworthy and is delivering not just on the mission promises, but the promises that each program/service makes, as well.

But a board’s job doesn’t stop with concern for ensuring an ethical organization. There are many other values that a board must stipulate, the most important being the organization’s core values.

Core values — those five to seven key beliefs — define an organization’s culture and set the behavior guidelines and expectations for everyone associated with the organization, from staff and board members to clients and donors.

These values are independent of the mission and, in fact, complement the mission by identifying the behavior and beliefs that people will demonstrate at all times while participating in the mission. Core values express the soul of an organization and, as such, must be expected at all times, and immediately addressed when they are absent.  As central to how an organization wishes to do business, core values must be affirmed by including adherence to them in performance assessments, reproving when they are not evidenced by staff, board and others, using them as part of the guide in hiring staff and board alike, and in selecting partners, donors, etc.

Deeply engrained and, therefore, completely shared, core values obviate the need for policies, rules, and regulations that tell people how they should behave. Policies and laws have never changed minds and are extremely slow to change behavior. Values, however, modeled at the top, and enforced from the top down, are what define organizations and move them forward.

One last thought on values and culture and the avoidance of harm. People love to talk about institutional memory, believing institutional memory is culture. It is absolutely not. The right institutional memory is part of culture, but the wrong institutional memory is not. And it is the wrong institutional memory that so many want to protect—the board member who has been there for 25 years and remembers why the particular color was selected 20 years ago for the logo; the staff member who constantly tells people why what happened decades ago justifies continuing to do it now; the people who take us backwards rather than move us forward.

But the institutional memory that is important—those pivotal moments in an organization’s development as opposed to the minutia of the years—is the institutional memory that is culturally valuable. That institutional memory should not reside in the head or heart of any one individual but should be woven into the fabric of the culture.  A culture that cherishes the minutia gives reverence where it isn’t due, and this reverence holds an organization back rather than pushing it forward.  A culture that cherishes the minutia of the past becomes insular, blocking—intentionally or unintentionally—the ideas from outside.

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New Jersey schools ride the green wave for a brighter future

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Executive Director, Sustainable Jersey


Sustainable Jersey for Schools 2018 special awards announced

sj2Sustainable Jersey for Schools celebrated the 111 schools that achieved Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification in 2018 at an awards event attended by over 250 teachers, principals, green team volunteers, school board members and staff. In addition to the newly certified schools, we announced the three schools and one school district that received 2018 Sustainable Jersey for Schools special awards.

Readington Township Public Schools Saves Energy and Costs

Readington Township Public Schools in Hunterdon County received the 2018 Sustainability Makes $ense Award that recognizes a district that has made exemplary progress in sustainability resulting in cost savings to the school district. Dr. Jonathan Hart, the superintendent of Readington Schools, said, “We are very proud of this accomplishment. This recognition affirms the Board of Education’s commitment to the work of the Green Committee and demonstrates the hard work and dedication of our students and staff to the district’s sustainability efforts.”

Five years ago, the District took the ambitious step to create an Energy Efficiency Program to serve its four schools and approximately 1,700 students. With the combination of operational and behavioral changes initiated by staff and students, the district has reduced its energy use. The estimate of avoided costs, based on the usage savings over the five years that the program ran, is $421,000.

Jodi Bettermann serves as the energy efficiency coordinator for the Readington Township Public School District where she administers the district’s behavior-based Energy Conservation Program. Her work to achieve energy savings through changes in culture, behavior and decision-making is delivering measurable results that serve as a model for New Jersey school districts.

Jodi said, “Behavioral changes are the unsung heroes of our results. Turning off lights and electronics, setting moderate heating and cooling setpoints and operating our building efficiently all added up to big energy savings.” Students are actively involved in the energy efficiency program. The green teams in each school participate in the program and the middle school students can also participate in an Energy Club, which monitors classrooms to ensure lights and electronics are turned off at the end of the day as well as investigates renewable energy sources.

Green Tiger Team at Three Bridges Elementary School

Tsj3hree Bridges Elementary School of Readington Township Public School District in Hunterdon County achieved the 2018 Sustainability Champion award with an impressive 605 Sustainable Jersey certification points. This is the second time that the school has earned the award; the elementary school also accomplished this distinction in 2015, the inaugural year of the program. “I am so proud of the entire Three Bridges and Readington Township communities for joining together and working so hard on all of our sustainability efforts,” said Kristen Higgins, principal of Three Bridges Elementary School. “I particularly want to thank our students for doing their part to save the earth with such energy and enthusiasm.”

The staff at Three Bridges School lead a Go Green program dedicated to promoting a sustainable culture at the school and educating the students about being good stewards of the environment. The students refer to themselves as the Green Tiger Team since the school’s mascot is a tiger.

Thirty-four students signed up for the green team. Part of their job, as a green team member, is to be an energy patrol officer and help perform monthly energy audits. The green team members, led by their advisor, Tiffany Barca, would perform monthly surprise audits when the students were at specials, recess or lunch. They would check to see if the lights in the classroom were turned off. Students would leave “WOW” stickers for when the lights were turned off and “Oops” stickers for when the lights were left on.

The students completed ten energy audits for the 2017-2018 school year. Three classrooms received ten WOW stickers and the reward was an extra recess with Principal Higgins. This contest helped promote saving energy in the school building. The green team members made posters and signs both on the computer and by hand to help remind students to turn off the lights and save energy. The Go Green program continues to encourage a culture of sustainability at the school.

Long Branch Middle School Rides the Green Wave of Sustainability

sj4For a second year in a row, Long Branch Middle School of Long Branch School District in Monmouth County achieved a Sustainability Champion award. James Brown, the principal at Long Branch Middle School explained, “The Long Branch Middle School students and staff ride the green wave of sustainability in order to create a green future for our community!”

The Long Branch Middle School Garden provides a hands-on learning environment. This is the fourth year of the garden and the school added a greenhouse to increase production. The crops are sold at the local farmers market, donated to local food pantries and used in the school’s student Bistro 63 café run by special needs students. Bistro 63 prepares freshly made soups and sandwiches using produce from the garden for the middle school staff while teaching students valuable life skills needed to become sustainable adults. Students in two classes at Long Branch Middle School are getting a taste of the restaurant business from working at Bistro 63.

Long Branch Middle School students promote sustainability at school, home and in the community. The students also help clean up beaches; an effort that resulted in the group beginning a #StrawFreeinLB campaign. The school no longer uses straws in the cafeteria and the students are working with local businesses to eliminate plastic, or use alternative, straws. The middle school students educate business owners of the dangers straws pose to marine life. The students made the initial visit to the business to provide information and are now working on securing commitments.

Jackson Liberty High School Conserves Energy


Jackson Liberty High School of Jackson School District in Ocean County achieved 355 points and is the recipient of the 2018 Sustainability Champion Award. Jackson Liberty High School Principal Geoff Brignola said, “Jackson Liberty High School is honored to be the recipient of this award because it recognizes not just one achievement, but a collective effort of so many people committed to being responsible to our environment. Here at Liberty, programs like our trout farm, our efforts to draw public attention to conservation issues, and simple things like a commitment to re-using art supplies are part of a district-wide culture of conservation.”

Liberty High School has an onsite ground-mounted 1.6 MW solar array that helps power the school facility. This system replaces approximately thirty percent of the school’s electrical use. Liberty High School also has a geothermal system. Geothermal technologies draw upon the energy stored in the earth to control school building temperatures. As a result, geothermal systems use less energy than a conventional heating system.

To date, 310 school districts and 800 schools are taking part in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. The district participation has grown to include 53 percent of all New Jersey school districts. From energy audits to integrating sustainability into student learning and boosting recycling efforts; the past year has been exceptional. Over 3,938 sustainability actions were completed by schools and districts participating in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program and over $16 million in grants have been awarded to schools and school districts since the program’s conception in 2014.

For more about Sustainable Jersey for Schools: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

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Kicking off the new year of board leadership learning

Posted on by by David Grant, former president and CEO, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation 


For those of us involved with the Dodge Foundation Board Leadership Series, each New Year actually begins in the fall. We leave the champagne and hugging for January, but we do a pretty good job in October of looking ahead with a sense of hope and new possibilities. Our New Year’s resolutions are not about diet or exercise or staying in touch with old friends but rather about organizational effectiveness and impact in the social sector in New Jersey. 

David Grant

David Grant

As facilitator of the opening workshop in the series, I get to remind the nonprofit board members and executive leaders in the room that we can’t pursue our resolutions by trying harder – that’s almost impossible to do in a stressed and overworked sector. We have to pursue them by thinking differently about what we are doing. 

Towards that end this year, I introduced a new framework for thinking about nonprofit effectiveness called The Performance Practice, created by The Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community, of which I am a member. The framework names six “pillars” of high performance for nonprofits and presents specific practices organizations can follow to build effectiveness in those areas. (A seventh pillar regarding periodic outside evaluation applies to larger, national organizations.)   

I hope readers of this blog post will click on the link above and consider The Performance Practice in full.  But I’d like to share here some personal thoughts about the pillars, saving the first and most important pillar for last. 

Pillar Two is disciplined, people-focused management. This pillar is shaky in the social sector. We assume management is necessary in the corporate sector but less critical in small organizations of people working together towards a social mission. In many nonprofits, we expect the same executive director who is the outward face of the organization, often its chief fund-raiser, ambassador and program expert, to also be a one-person HR department – and with little or no training in management. The Performance Practice addresses what good managers do to attract and retain valuable employees (and board members), such as creating workplans, providing feedback, and providing incentives. It also reminds board members that they are the managers of the executive director and that well-managed people get better at what they do. 

Pillar Three is well-designed and well-implemented programs and strategies. This is the pillar the rest of the world sees every day, and it gets lots of ongoing attention from staff and board members. But are we always clear about whom we serve?  And have we set up ways to learn from them? Do we have an evidence-based theory of change behind the design of our programs? Are we looking at data on results? Are we designing our programs within the context of the larger ecosystem in which we operate? Questions like these from The Performance Practice can up our game in Pillar Three. 

Pillar Four is financial health and stability.  This is the existential pillar, the one executive directors wake up in the morning worrying about.  In smaller nonprofits, this pillar is often understaffed, and financial systems lag behind as organizations grow. And it is often undernourished by boards who have not been organized and trained in the tasks of friend-raising and fund-raising. Work on Pillar Four is crucial, and there are lots of professional resources available to help us, but I have always believed that the best way to build financial health and stability is to be sure the other pillars are strong. We have to have people, programs, processes and an impact on the world worth supporting.  

Pillar Five is a culture that values learning.  Many organizations embrace this pillar in theory but not in practice. For Pillar Five to have substance, there must be enabling structures to support our good intentions. In particular, there must be time set aside for divergent thinking, for reflection, for reading and discussion, for processing and learning from mistakes, for refinement of mission and vision statements, for analyzing data, for future planning, and for working through differences of perspective. I call this mission time. Scheduling it is hard to do. Protecting it from the urgent demands that distract organizations from ongoing learning is even harder. But you can’t build Pillar Five without mission time. 

Pillar Six is internal monitoring for continuous improvement.  This pillar has enormous potential to improve organizational performance when nonprofit leaders understand its power. We do pay attention to how things are going, and we always want to do better.  But what are we monitoring? Unless we slow down enough for ongoing learning (Pillar Five), we notice and measure what is easily quantifiable – “numbers served” or a rating of “highly satisfied” on a program evaluation. But how well were those people served? And did satisfaction with a program lead to any changes in behavior in the weeks and months that followed? The key to Pillar Six is creating an internal assessment system that uses qualitative as well as quantitative metrics to define and shape performance, not judge it after the fact. I elaborate on this theme, if not beat it into the ground, in my book The Social Profit Handbook. 

Finally, there is the pre-eminent Pillar One: courageous and adaptive executive and board leadership. None of the other pillars gets strong and remains strong without Pillar One. It takes courage to stay passionately committed to a mission, to define and insist upon high performance from staff and board members, to look unflinchingly at data, to listen carefully to those we serve, to create and protect mission time and be patient while people learn to use it, and to champion values of diversity, equity and inclusion if they have not been part of an organization’s history and DNA. 

And if we can’t adapt as our organizations themselves grow and develop in a changing world, we will fall short of our own aspirations for effectiveness and impact. 

I love the overarching metaphor of building these six pillars to support high performance.  The task is formidable and has many dimensions.  But we have to start somewhere, with a picture in our heads of what we are striving to build together.  The New Year beckons, and construction can start whenever we put our minds to it.

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Creative New Jersey Kickstarts Community Collaboration and Trust

Posted on by Susan Haig, CivicStory


“How can we provide our youth with safe places for creative expression?”

“How can we encourage young professionals to live, work, and raise families here?”

These and dozens of other questions have been explored and debated in a remarkable series of “creative convenings” around the state of New Jersey over the past seven years. From Skylands in the Ramapo Mountains region in the Northwest to Atlantic City on the Jersey Shore in the Southeast, in 14 different communities, groups of 100 to 200 citizens from diverse fields and walks of life have met together for the first time and in a new way. They emerge a day later with a powerful new sense of purpose and agency, ready to work together to change their communities, and realizing — in many cases — that they will be the change. What’s been going on?

Inclusive Calls to Collaboration

Creative New Jersey, a statewide civic initiative fostering “creativity, collaboration and inclusion” was launched in 2011 by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a New Jersey-based philanthropy focused on arts, education, environment, and informed communities. Each of the two-day Creative New Jersey “Calls to Collaboration” are planned over several months in two phases:

  1. A cross-sector Host Team of 12 to 20 local residents is developed through a process of introductions, referrals and discussions that identify civic-minded leaders of diverse communities as well as quieter, behind-the-scenes activists or connectors. The host group receives coaching in team-building, common goal-setting, and inclusion.
  2. The Host Team then issues personal invitations to a cross-section of community residents representing diverse sectors, generations, and ethnicities, to attend a two-day “Call to Collaboration” that explores questions such as: How can we collaborate to build community esteem, foster an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, and attract more residents and investments in order to create a thriving Atlantic City? The “whole nine yards” format of the framing question is intentional, to pique the curiosity of a broad range of participants.

Respectful Exchange

Creative New Jersey adapts many of the Open Space Technology concepts developed decades ago by Harrison Owen and used internationally by businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. The format bypasses pre-set agendas, panels of experts, and trainers, and even cuts introductions to avoid creating unintended hierarchies based on titles or affiliations.

Day One begins with all the participants choosing seats in several large, concentric circles. Following a brief, warm welcome, they’re invited to get to work — using markers to scrawl questions they care about onto large pieces of paper, which are then posted and assigned a time and location as a break-out session. Residents who never knew they were leaders find themselves moderating a discussion. The “Law of Two Feet” (also defined by Owen) means anyone, anytime, is free to roam from one corner and conversation to another, so moderators work to keep their discussion brisk, engaging, and respectful.

By mid-afternoon, the 100-plus participants have taken part in at least four “pop-up” discussions, and often many more, if they’ve behaved as “pollinators” who choose to drop in and out of concurrent dialogues. Conversations are often a mixing pot of ideas, resources, and proposed solutions from participants. In this collaborative work model, Day One serves as the “opening” phase, to be followed by “narrowing” and “closing” in on practicalities on Day Two.

Creative Atlantic City Bets on Diversity

I served on the volunteer steering committee during Creative New Jersey’s start-up years, but still wasn’t prepared for the palpable sense of energy and exuberance I encountered upon arriving at three different “Calls to Collaboration” in Monmouth County, Atlantic City, and Camden. Each time, people were engaged and enthused, and scores of New Jersey residents were clearly perceiving their communities in a whole new light. “I’ve lived here 25 years, and had no idea so many others cared about the goals I’m passionate about,” was a common response.

When Day 2 begins the next morning – with everyone again seated in large circles – people greet one another with ease and familiarity. Elizabeth Murphy, Creative New Jersey director and “Call to Collaboration” facilitator, invites participants to move from yesterday’s open-ended questions and trading of ideas to feasible next steps. Though missing another day of work can be challenging for some, the second day has proved to be critical for “focusing on planning and action, and deepening relationships and trust,” says Kacy O’Brien, Creative NJ’s director of programming.

Success Factors

When I asked Kacy what makes Creative New Jersey’s methods so well suited to large, diverse communities, she describes the Call to Collaboration as a “modified Open Space framework that includes engagement, team-building, knowledge-sharing, and network-building to support community connection and collaboration.”

“People become energized and excited when they first can connect with others who feel passionately about common issues, second realize that they’re not alone – they’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with others who are also deeply committed to their community, even if they don’t agree, and third can lead from where they are, given the time and space for generating solutions to complex community issues,” Kacy said.

The genius of Creative New Jersey, to me, is the speed with which people are propelled out of status quo thinking and freed from prevailing narratives of civic inadequacy or democratic decline. Conversations abound, in twos, threes, fives or more, and ideas are exchanged in a congenial atmosphere that accommodates young and old, extroverts and introverts. One senses new possibilities being hatched in every corner of the room.

Ready for Deliberation

Certainly the more sustained work of deliberation – considering options and carefully weighing trade-offs – may require a more reflective environment than the “free-flow” of Creative New Jersey gatherings. But the required components of deliberative work:

  • Listen with care
  • Focus on the issue at hand
  • Stay in learning mode
  • Participate fully
  • Disagree positively

are present at Creative New Jersey Calls for Collaboration as well. Participants adopt a lexicon of respect and empowerment that will serve them in future deliberative environments. As Elizabeth noted during the wrap-up of Creative Atlantic City, “what you all created here today was a democratic, egalitarian, respectful way of hearing each other out, and coming together to work together.”

Creative Monmouth

Mature Leadership

It should be noted that both Elizabeth and Kacy play key facilitating roles at Creative New Jersey gatherings, deftly guiding participants through both days with a subtly tight time frame for interaction. Both are experienced theater producers and are comfortable working with people of a variety of experiences, talents and backgrounds.

Their deep understanding of citizens as fully creative beings defines – for me – the essence of Creative New Jersey. The program’s spirited affirmation of each participant as uniquely valuable to the whole community generates – again and again – a powerful sense of hope, possibility, and agency for 21st century New Jersey communities.


This story was originally published as a guest blog of the Jefferson Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen engagement organization working on crafting democratic solutions to today’s toughest challenges ( as the fourth in a blog series exploring democracy around the world, submitted by a diverse group of people interested in using deliberation, participation, and civic tech to solve challenges we face today. It  does not necessarily represent the views of the Jefferson Center or Jefferson Center staff. Creative New Jersey thanks Susan Haig, Founder and Creative Producer of CivicStory, for sharing her perspective on our work and for telling the stories of New Jersey’s communities.

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Sustainable Jersey: Planting Trees to Restore NJ’s Floodplains

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Sustainable Jersey partners with The Nature Conservancy for the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Program

 With flooding having a devastating effect in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, the importance of resilient floodplains has drawn renewed attention. Tree planting near our rivers’ banks can play a significant role in preventing flooding and is a low-cost way to make real impacts on water quality and habitats for fish and wildlife. In New Jersey, dense development has led to many of our trees being removed from the floodplains. Trees help filter water, absorb flooding and cool the river for fish. For the past five years, The Nature Conservancy has worked with local, state and federal partners in northwestern New Jersey to reforest the floodplains of a key tributary to the Delaware River, the Paulins Kill.


This year, Sustainable Jersey partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help catalyze floodplain restoration efforts across the state. Over $48,000 was awarded to seven New Jersey municipalities and one school district for floodplain reforestation projects. This important work, completed by volunteers in our Sustainable Jersey communities, contributes to our mission to create a more sustainable New Jersey. The partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Jersey is called the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. Michelle DiBlasio, the watershed restoration coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, said, “Through the Nature Conservancy’s Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grants Program, we hope to inspire others to improve New Jersey’s freshwater resources by restoring floodplains, the critical land adjacent to our rivers. Our goal of planting 50,000 trees throughout state floodplains by 2020 will only be made possible through many partnerships, including a key collaboration like this one with Sustainable Jersey.” Here is a snapshot of some of the Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant-funded projects. 

Schalick High School Students Plant Trees to Protect the River (Salem County)

Students from Arthur P. Schalick High School (APSHS) in Pittsgrove Township School District worked collaboratively with the American Littoral Society and South Jersey Land and Water Trust on an important reforestation project. The volunteers planted nearly 800 trees and expanded the forested buffer of the unnamed tributary of Muddy Run by 1.9 acres. APSHS was awarded a $12,195 grant from the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. The grant was used to cover the cost of tree saplings and other protection measures.

 1,000 Plantings along Passaic River in Chatham Borough Provide Shade for Future Generations (Morris County)

sjtrees2In Chatham Borough, the municipality loses trees faster than they can replant them with their available funding. Thanks to a $14,949 grant, Chatham Borough was able to purchase trees. Approximately 125 volunteers came together to plant over 700 two-foot shrubs and saplings on a trail along the Passaic River. The Department of Public Works planted an additional 300 trees to meet the goal of 1,000 plantings. The project will help to stabilize the stream banks and improve the water quality by absorbing storm runoff and filtering out pollutants. The shade provided by the new trees will help to cool the river for fish and will also provide shade for generations to come.

Colleen Truppo, the chair of the Chatham Borough Shade Tree Commission, said “One of the reasons we have beautiful mature trees in our town is due to Borough residents of prior generations who clearly recognized the value and importance of trees. Each and every one of our volunteers who came and planted as part of this project embraced the Borough’s long history of stewardship and these efforts at Shepard Kollock will help to continue that legacy for the benefit of future generations to enjoy.”

500 Plantings along the East Branch of the Rahway River in South Orange Village (Essex County)

Erosion and invasive plants are degrading the floodplains along the East Branch of the Rahway River in South Orange. The South Orange Environmental Commission is always looking for ways to manage and care for this dynamic landscape. On the south end of town, the Village’s Department of Public Works facility sits beside the river near a soccer field, Chyzowych Field, just to the south. While it is a public area, it experiences frequent flooding, is overrun by invasive species and doesn’t invite much public appreciation. “We knew with a little love and some native trees we could improve the air quality, water quality, diversity of habitat for native species and the overall aesthetics of the place,” said Bill Haskins, the South Orange Environmental Commission Chairman. Thanks to a Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant, the Village of South Orange received $6,516 to cover the costs for over 500 trees and shrubs that were planted in the floodplain area.


The project was led by Bill Haskins and landscape designer Neil Chambers who is a former commissioner of the South Orange Environmental Commission. They managed a dedicated group of nearly thirty volunteers that worked 200 hours over eight consecutive weekends to get the work done. The project was made more difficult because about one-third of the site was covered with storm damaged trees and invasive species like Japanese Knotweed. The volunteer crew spent the majority of the time cutting and clearing knotweed, mugwort, wisteria and other invasives. They said that the actual tree planting was relatively easy by comparison, although volunteer crews had to be aware of the soccer field boundaries and making sure to maintain access lanes to power lines and light poles.

South Orange Village Trustee Walter Clarke, who participated in the planting, said “The Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant enabled us to purchase trees and shrubs and get one of our many projects along the Rahway River moving forward. We hope to see this area rejuvenated by the natural beauty of trees and a multi-story canopy of native species that will also attract more native wildlife. Our goal is to transform this place into a multifunctional but environmentally friendly place where pedestrians, commuters, cyclists and soccer players can pause in the shade of river birch surrounded by calls of red-winged black birds. Roots for Rivers has helped us on that path.”

Volunteers Plant Trees along Passaic River in the Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary (Somerset)

The Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, bisected by the Passaic River, has lost tree canopy along the riverbanks and flood plains due to deer browsing and storms. The Bernardsville Green Team, recognizing the need for trees, applied for and received a $2,513 Roots for Rivers Reforestation grant. With this grant, volunteers planted three-hundred Atlantic White Cedar trees in the flood plain and banks of the Passaic River and Indian Grave Brook, which is a tributary to the Passaic. The river has protected status due to the presence of wild trout and wood turtles. The planting was done primarily in the tree gap areas created by storm events.

The Bernardsville Green Team managed volunteers including Boy Scouts, college interns and New Jersey Audubon staff. They even recruited corporate volunteers from Johnson & Johnson and Verizon. Over twenty Johnson & Johnson employees performed their Earthshare Corporate Green Day Challenge by participating in the planting. This group pruned, trimmed and removed the invasive bamboo. The bamboo stalks were re-purposed to serve as stakes for the 85 trees they planted.

Over 300 Plantings along Rancocas Creek in Monroe Park Located in Mount Holly Township (Burlington County)

sjtrees5Mount Holly has four parks that are adjacent to the Rancocas Creek that flows through the center of town. For this Roots for Rivers Reforestation project, Mount Holly Township received a $3,418 grant to plant 192 shrubs and 125 trees in Monroe Park along either side of the creekside walking path and in open spaces outside of the existing baseball fields. The plantings will enhance the creekside and relieve stormwater runoff that comes from the baseball parking lots.

Nearly 50 volunteers including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school, middle school and college students helped in planting the trees and shrubs and installing the tree protectors. Randi Rothmel, chair of the Mount Holly Environmental Committee, said “This project is one step in providing more resiliency for Mount Holly which has experienced major flooding issues during heavy rainstorms and tropical storms. It is hoped that we can once again participate in a grant program to continue the floodplain restoration in the other parks especially Iron Works and Mill Dam Park to increase the riparian buffer to protect the Rancocas Creek from the impact of storm water runoff and non-point pollution.”

We are pleased to announce that The Nature Conservancy will partner with Sustainable Jersey again to offer a Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program. The program will support municipal and school district efforts to undertake floodplain reforestation initiatives on public or private land. Program participants will receive technical assistance to design planting projects and funding to cover materials (trees and protection) associated with plantings.

For more about Sustainable Jersey: Website  Facebook  Twitter   Instagram   LinkedIn

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Ask a Poet: Gregory Orr

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Welcome to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re chatting with Gregory Orr!

XorrHey! What’s new with you?
After teaching at the University of Virginia for forty-four years and designing and setting up its MFA Program in Writing, I’m preparing to retire at the end of the spring 2019 semester. I just brought out a book with Norton—A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry—that I’m very happy about—in a way it let me sum up and close out all my long time as a teacher—what I learned as I did my best to persuade my students of what they already knew in their hearts—that lyric poetry is a great cultural and personal tool for discovering and expressing the dignity and miseries of being a person. Poetry saved me as a young person (first, the trying to write it; later, the learning to read it) and I hope my Primer (with its craft topics and writing exercises) can bring some of my excitement and insight to readers now that I am on the verge of retiring from face-to-face teaching. Also, I’ll bring out a new collection of poems in the spring of 2019. It’s called The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write. At the Festival, I’ll be performing a “concert” of poems and singing with the Parkington Sisters—it will be a mix of singing and reciting based on a long sequence of “beloved” poems that I’ve been writing, off and on, for the past fifteen years. I’m extremely excited about that. As someone who can’t sing the simplest tune, I’m in awe of the human voice when it’s skilled enough to explore all the nuances of melody and phrasing, so this event is really exciting to me. The poems in that sequence are incantatory and more “musical” than many I write, so I’m very very curious to see if they can be “lifted” right up into actual song.

(Editor’s note: You can see the world premiere poetry-and-song cycle The Beloved that Gregory mentions above on Saturday of the Festival. For more information, see the full program.)

When did you first discover poetry?  What poets made you want to write?
I first discovered poetry through my high school librarian in the small upstate New York village where I was raised. Her guidance and encouragement opened up the whole world of writing to me and when I stumbled on the expressive form of lyric poetry,  I knew I’d found what I needed to live fully and deeply and to survive certain miserable and traumatic events that marred my childhood. I’ve written about that in my memoir, The Blessing.

After sixty years of writing poems, I’ve come to this conclusion: many of us who are going to live and love poetry begin either excited/impatient to write it (to write expressing our feelings or experience) or we start by reading some poem(s) and get inspired to write ourselves (in imitation of what excites us that we read). Most of us (especially me) start with the urge to write a poem or poems because we feel something bursting or gnawing inside us and sense that poetry is one way to get it OUTSIDE us by turning it into words and putting those words down on a page. Such a relief/release—exhilarating and scary at the same time if you are dealing with difficult emotional or experiential material—is so powerful. I needed that as a young person. Truth to tell, it was a while before I could calm down enough to read other poets and discover that reading was another main way to learn the art and deepen the experience. What poets did I read first? Keats. His poems and then his letters (great letters for a poet to read). I still read my favorite poems of his every other year.  

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about? 
See answer above. I was sixteen when my high school librarian showed me poetry by way of writing. I was part of a small group of “honors” English students in a small upstate NY village public school (graduating class: 36 students). This teacher/librarian, Dorothy Irving had us read and write constantly and one day the writing assignment was to write a poem and that was it for me. I immediately knew/felt that language in poetry was “magical”—that it created reality instead of describing it (as language in prose tends to do). I needed that “magic” because the “real” world inside me was kind of nightmarish and intense and I couldn’t write about it in ordinary language—I needed the intensified language of poetry (and song) to express what I felt and knew.  Honestly, most of the poetry I read in high school English classes didn’t help me—I hated the way the poem became an excuse for questions that had “right” and “wrong” answers. I felt closer to the heart of what mattered to me when I heard the Beatle’s sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the only jukebox in town (Lawlor’s drug store, 1963). I think the process of introducing young people to the essential art and joy of poetry has gotten a thousand times better than when I was young (proof of that: the Dodge Poetry Festival).  

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Yes. But the good news is: if I have written something, then I have already had the experience of sharing it with the page. The page “listened” to me and didn’t judge me. Maybe later, I’ll have the courage and/or opportunity to share what I’ve written with another person, but meanwhile, the page has heard me and so I’m already less alone. I knew early on that I would need to write about the traumatic deaths of my younger brother and my mother and that made me ashamed and scared, even though I knew I’d need to do so to survive. Poetry is there for people like I was: a place to bring your joy, sorrow, trauma, confusion. So it seems to me.  

Gregory Orr is the author of eleven collections of poetry. His more recent volumes include The River Inside the RiverHow Beautiful The Beloved, and Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved. His most recent book, A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, serves as an innovative and accessible guide in bringing the young poet toward a deeper understanding of how poetry can function in their life, while also introducing the art in an exciting new way. His memoir, The Blessing, was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fifty best non-fiction books of 2002. Orr has received many awards and fellowships, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and a Rockefeller Fellowship at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Violence.  


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The Dodge Poetry Festival Has Zero Waste Goals

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Green Team Dodge Poetry Fest Photo by Jenny Vickers (2)

A green army of volunteers will be on hand at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival when thousands of people flock to downtown Newark this October to hear more than 70 renowned poets read, perform and discuss poetry.

Since 2010, Dodge has sought to live our values of sustainability, model leadership in how we run events, and be good neighbors through the Festival’s zero-waste initiative. This year we are, again, partnering with Clean Water Fund to use their ReThink Disposable program to reduce the amount of waste the Poetry Festival produces.

The program’s mission is simple but by no means easy — reduce the usage of single-use food packaging, plastic coffee lids, straws, plastic bottles, hot cup sleeves, napkins, plastic utensils, and other items that add up to a big problem not just for Newark but the entire state of New Jersey.

At the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival, nearly 500 pounds of food waste was collected, more than 500 pounds of bottles and cans and mountains of paper and cardboard were recycled. In comparison, a waste audit by Clean Water Action showed 780-pounds of trash was collected during the four-day event.

We will feature water fill-up stations throughout the Festival this year, so bring your reusable water bottle, or purchase one at the Festival bookstore.

More than 75 Green Team volunteers wearing green Festival T-shirts will be posted at resource recovery stations throughout NJPAC — each with four bins for all types of recyclable and compostable items — to help assist festival-goers and ensure there is no contamination between bins.

What can you do to help?

At this year’s festival we encourage Festival attendees to:

  • Take only what you need when it comes to single-use disposables – bags, packaging, utensils, straws, napkins
  • Use a refillable cup or water bottle
  • Bring your trash, recyclables, compostables and returnable food baskets to the Rethink Disposable stations located in the plaza and lobby of NJPAC. The Green Team will be there to help you sort it into to the correct collection bin. Behind the scenes, the volunteers will inspect, weigh and prepare all collected materials for pick-up and reuse, and answer any questions the public has about the effort

To further reduce the environmental impact this festival has, we are encouraging festival goers to take public transportation and carpool with one another. Also, we’re printing less paper programs and using a phone based app. And, you won’t find a plastic bag at the book store.

Why is this important?

When the Poetry Festival made the move from Waterloo Village to Newark in 2010, Dodge saw an opportunity to live our values of sustainability, experiment with how we run events differently so others might learn from our experience, and build on the movement to rethink disposables through Festival’s zero-waste initiative.

We knew that the Poetry Festival had the possibility of having a big impact on the City of Newark, both positive and negative. You may not know that much of New Jersey’s trash ends up in Newark – at a waste transfer station and an incinerator that burns the trash, making our air and water less healthy. We we think it’s important we all know this and recognize that every little thing we do makes a big difference in changing this and making Newark a healthier place for all of us to live, work, and visit.

This is a good time to be talking about sustainability in Newark since the city’s Office of Sustainability Action Plan set a goal of recycling 50% of its waste by 2020, and to encourage residents, institutions and businesses to take ownership of their city as a trash-free place.

“We’re trying to create a healthy, vibrant Newark in a way that engages people that live in the City rather than having to bring in solutions from the outside,” Amy Goldmsith, Clean Water Action State Director said. “There is plenty of talent, resources and ingenuity here and we’d like to see that shape Newark.”

You can learn more about Clean Water Fund’s Rethink Disposable program and how to adopt some of these actions for your next event at

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Ask a Poet: Ellen Bass

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re chatting with Academy of American Poets Chancellor Ellen Bass!


What are you currently reading?
I’m reading many books at once, which is typical for me. One is Secrets of the Snout: The Dog’s Incredible Nose by Frank Rosell and Marc Bekoff. It explains how dogs noses work and how they are capable of finding someone by smell even if that person has just touched a fingertip to a stick for one second. I hope I can write a poem someday that utilizes some of this amazing information. I’m also reading Nicole Sealey’s Ordinary Beast, Robert Wrigley’s Beautiful Country, W. G. Sebold’s The Rings of Saturn and Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mashimo.

If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it?
I always just say I write poetry that someone might want to read. Usually they laugh.

What books of poetry/poets do you recommend to a new reader of poems?
For new readers of poetry I tend to recommend poems that reach people on a first reading and continue to yield more depth and complexity as you read them again and again. Some poets I’d suggest are Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Lucille Clifton, Dorianne Laux, Phillip Levine, Toi Derricotte, Jericho Brown. There are so many more I’d include! When I began teaching at Salinas Valley State Prison I felt it was crucial that the first poem I brought in was one that the men would immediately be interested in. I spent hours and hours selecting and then rejecting poems and I finally chose “Sole Custody” by Joseph Millar. It was a perfect choice. I read the poem and before I could even begin talking about it, the men started saying what they appreciated about the poem. Without me saying a word, they jumped right in and did their own close reading, not only connecting with the the speaker of the poem, but admiring the details, the adjectives and verbs, the final metaphor. Two men even began arguing about whether one line of dialogue in the poem was said by the father or the son. It was a question of syntax and I just sat there thinking, wow, they’re arguing about syntax! Right here is the power of poetry!

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
I always loved reading poetry. When I was an adolescent I’d type lines of poems on index cards. Even before I could understand what the poems were saying, I loved the sound of them and I had some kind of intuition that there was something there that I wanted—needed—to live with. We moved to another town when I was eleven and it took me awhile to make friends and when I did, my first friend stole my purse and my second group of friends were mean to me. It was a clique thing that these girls did. I wrote a poem trying to grapple with that, asking god to forgive them. My early poems showed no promise at all, but they helped me get through some hard times. Poetry still helps me get through hard times. When I write a poem, something inside me shifts. I see my experience, personal as it is, as part of the human experience. And I’m more able to accept myself and my life.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Yes, yes, yes! There is often a voice in my head that says don’t write that. But I tell the voice that it’s mistaken, that the only way to write is to write what wants to be written and we’ll think about whether it’s shared and how it’s shared later. Pretty much the voice listens to me. As for the sharing part, I’m almost always afraid to share what I’ve written. I very much want the poem to communicate to someone else. I want the poem to, in its small way, matter. But I’m old buddies with fear. I have many fears and I don’t expect to overcome them. I know that you can do whatever you want and need to do even while you’re afraid. I went scuba diving once with a friend who is not usually afraid of much. We were both afraid of diving, but I was able to manage my fear and dive and she just couldn’t do it and had to stay on the surface. Afterward I realized that I just had so much more experience with fear than she did. Once you get used to it, fear doesn’t have to stop you. There’ve been many times that I was in front of an audience reading my poems and I couldn’t take a drink of water because my hand would have shook too much, but the fear didn’t affect my reading.

What is something miscellaneous from your life that you would recommend to other people? It could be a person, a habit, an idea, anything that brings you happiness right now that you would like to recommend.
I’ve always tried, to the extent that I’m able, to do what I want to do. It’s sometimes gotten me into trouble, but it’s also allowed me to write poetry and to live the way I want to live. Especially when I talk to young people, I encourage them to follow their deepest desires. You have to pay the rent and put food on the table, so sometimes you must do things you’d rather not do. But to the extent that you’re able, do what you want. I think desire is as good a compass as any.

Ellen Bass was born in Philadelphia and raised in New Jersey. She is the author of eight poetry collections, the most recent of which is Like a Beggar. Her other books include The Human LineMules of Love, and I’m Not Your Laughing Daughter. Bass is the recipient of fellowships from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and two Pushcart Prizes. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017. She currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University and lives in Santa Cruz, California.

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Top Spots to Visit When You’re In Newark for the Dodge Poetry Festival

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Lauren CraigMeet Lauren Craig, Newark’s Glambassador, at the Newark Arts Festival, starting tomorrow, October 4th through Sunday, 7th. For more information, including details about the Newark Arts & Dodge Poetry partnership event called “Poems in the Key of Life,” visit



Hi poetry people! Lauren Craig here, Newark’s Glambassador and author of 100 Things to Do in Newark Before You Die. Congratulations! You’re already in the loop about one of my top 100 bucket-list happenings in our great city, the Dodge Poetry Festival. But are you wondering what other hot spots to hit up while you’re in town? No worries, your faithful Glambassador has you covered. Without further ado, here are my top ten spots to visit during Dodge Poetry Festival.

Black Swan Espresso, 93 Halsey St. – Located in the heart of Halsey Street Village, you’ll love the warm, neighborhood vibe of Black Swan Espresso. A small specialty shop with a full range of espresso drinks that pack a smooth and full-bodied punch, this shop caters to early risers and those who can appreciate espresso art. Pro tip: be sure to grab a hibiscus doughnut!

Smitty and Mo’s Chicken Kitchen, Gateway III, 100 Mulberry St. – This hot and fresh lunch spot is earning rave reviews for its super delicious soul food items with a healthy twist. Don’t bypass the boneless barbeque chicken, sauteed kale and mac and cheese, and do top it off with a delicious cupcake by Tonnie’s Minis. You will be so happy you did!

GRAMMY Museum Experience Prudential Center, 165 Mulberry St. – The first GRAMMY Museum Experience on the East Coast is open right here in Newark. Full of technological innovation and interactivity, the eighty-two-hundred-square-foot museum features awesome exhibits and footage from the past fifty years of GRAMMY history.

Marcus B&P, 56 Halsey St. – Located in the newly redeveloped Hahne & Co. Building downtown, this intimate and high end space is the latest venture from acclaimed chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson. Offering top-notch dining and inventive drinks six nights a week, visit for a lively crowd and service par excellence.

The Newark Museum, 49 Washington St. – The Newark Museum is not just the largest museum in New Jersey but it features the oldest Planetarium in the state. You’ll never forget that time you soared to the edge of the Universe in Newark. For a look into the independent art scene in Brick City, pop by Project for Empty Space, 2 Gateway Center and Gallery Aferro, 73 Market St.

Casa d’Paco, 73 Warwick St. – Situated on a residential block in the Ironbound, Casa D’Paco has a rustic, family feel and an excellent reputation for the cuisine of Galicia (a community in northwestern Spain). In fact, it is well known in foodie circles for having been listed among Spoon University’s Top 50 Best Restaurants in America.

Jimenez Tobacco, 31 Liberty St. – Are cigars more your speed? Plan a night out at this savoir-faire speakeasy, one of the coolest places in the city. Boasting a dimly lit lounge, upscale cocktails and hand-rolled cigars, the ambiance at Jimenez never disappoints.

Nasto’s, 236 Jefferson St. – Since 1939, Newarkers have headed to Nasto’s for homemade Italian ice cream in an array of delicious flavors. Famously name-dropped in an episode of The Soprano’s, feel free to pretend you’re traveling through Italy as you order up a decadent Tortoni, Spumoni, Tiramisu, Tartufo or Reginetta.

Express Newark, 54 Halsey St. – A downtown Newark arts incubator, Express Newark is a gorgeous fifty-thousand-square-foot facility, that houses Rutgers-Newark arts classes and seminars but also provides state-of-the-art public learning spaces where artists, residents, and partners can create.

Source of Knowledge, 867 Broad St., An infinite amount of knowledge is housed within the walls of Source of Knowledge, a well-known African-American bookstore and gift shop. You’ll feel right at home (and may lose a few hours) browsing its large variety of notable historical and cultural books by African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean thought leaders.

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Poetry Friday: Ask Krista Tippett

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Today we’re taking a break from our regularly scheduled “Ask a Poet” blogs, and taking the opportunity to get to know Krista Tippett, host of the public radio show and podcast On Being. The show grapples with what it means to be human, getting deep into issues of spirituality, culture, the arts, and more. At the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, Krista will be interviewing Jericho Brown, Gregory Orr and Sharon Olds, all separately, in live taped episodes entitled “What Is Found There: Poetry & On Being.” We are so honored and excited to welcome her to the Festival.

Without further ado, let’s get to know Krista Tippett.

tippettWhat are you currently reading?
I often find nonfiction writing too dry, but have recently discovered a beautiful genre of British nature writing. I am enraptured by a book by Michael McCarthy called The Moth Snowstorm. I am also slowly rereading and savoring a gorgeous book by Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding A Home In The World. He is an Irish poet and theologian and a social healer. This book is wondrous in how it brings the impulses behind all of those realms together as they come together in his person.

When did you first discover poetry?
I don’t remember poetry being read or discussed in my small town in Oklahoma, but in the third or fourth grade I began to fill notebooks with simple rhyming poems. I wish someone had introduced me to poets and poetry in a more formal way. I wish I had been invited or required to memorize poems. None of this happened for me in life or in school, and at some point I put my notebooks and my poetic bent, as it were, away. When I lived in divided Berlin in the 1980s, I experienced poets as cultural catalysts, heroes. When a few decades later I discovered that poetry had to be at the heart of On Being, it was like being reintroduced to something I needed like light and air. I experience many people taking in the poets and poetry we offer up in our show in that spirit – with an urgency, and a primal gratitude.

What is the role of poetry in today’s world?
Poetry holds its questions fervently and its answers gingerly. It is bigger than fact, deeper than opinion, and resistant to argument. Need I say more about the role of poetry in today’s world?

Krista Tippett is a Peabody-award winning broadcaster, National Humanities Medalist, and New York Times bestselling author. She founded and leads The On Being Project, hosts the globally esteemed On Being public radio show and podcast, and curates the Civil Conversations Project, an emergent approach to conversation and relationship across the differences of our age. Krista grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, attended Brown University, became a journalist and diplomat in Cold War Berlin, and later received a Master of Divinity from Yale University. Her books include Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, and Einstein’s God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit.

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Ask a Poet: Nicole Homer

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

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Welcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re chatting with Nicole Homer!

HomerHey Nicole! What’s new with you?
I spent the summer living and working at Robert Frost’s Franconia, NH home as the Dartmouth Poet in Residence at The Frost Place. It was an honor and a privilege and my favorite spot in the house was the porch where I could sit and write or edit or sip coffee and see the White Mountains. Also, because I’m me, I found an ice cream shop with delicious homemade ice cream.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?
When I was in high school, I started going to an open mic at the local Barnes and Nobles. I was surrounded by older poets who were kind and generous and indulgent with me. My father died when I was in middle school, so he occupied a large part of my work. Alongside that, I was trying to figure out the world and my place in it so I examined politics and relationships.

What is the role of poetry in today’s world?
To simultaneously bear witness and offer a way through.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
“How do you eat?”

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
Yes! More and more this is a feeling that lets me know I’m being honest or that, at least, I’m headed in a productive direction.

What is something miscellaneous from your life that you would recommend to other people? It could be a person, a habit, an idea, anything that brings you happiness right now that you would like to recommend.
There are two things I think people should do everyday: exercise and create. To the extent that one’s body is able, I think exercise—movement, really—helps. It impacts the chemicals in the body and therefore emotion. It can change your perspective. Literally. If you walk or jog down the street, you are somewhere different seeing something different. Creation can be a poem, but it doesn’t have to be. A paper airplane. A cake. A scarf. I find that if I put too much on myself to write every day, I can become overwhelmed. Writing isn’t the end all be all, but making something is valuable. Even something as transient as a sandcastle. It’s a practice and a craft and trains you to get into a creative space with increasing ease.

Nicole Homer is a full-time faculty member at Mercer County Community College in NJ, with an MFA from Rutgers-Newark. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in MuzzleThe OffingWinter TangerineRattleThe Collagist and elsewhere. A The Watering Hole graduate fellow and Callaloo fellow, Nicole serves as an Editor and regular contributor at BlackNerdProblems, writing critique of media and pop culture, and as faculty at the Pink Door Writing Retreat for Women and Gender Non-conforming Writers of Color. Her first full-length collection of poems, Pecking Order, published by Write Bloody Press, was a Paterson Poetry Prize finalist. She was chosen to be the 2018 Poet-in-Residence at The Frost Place. She can be found online at or @realnicolehomer on Twitter and other things. 

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Ask a Poet: William Evans

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

Letterhead BannerWelcome back to our Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re talking with William Evans!

EvansWhat are you currently reading?
Because I’ve been very interested in the intersection of home and place, I’ve been reading Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things (very excited for her new book coming as well). I’m also reading Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnet for My Past And Future Assassin and I always find my self revisiting Robert Hayden’s American Journal. I’m also slow walking my way through N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. My non-fiction read right now is Mehrsa’s Baradaran’s book Color of Money.

If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asked you to describe your poetry, how would you describe it?
The phrase I fell in love with, coined by or at least repeated with great revelry by Vievee Francis, is radical normativity. My poetry doesn’t seek to cross any great chasm that isn’t easy to travel to now. I write about my life, my life experience, the future I fear and the future I want, as they unfold around and within me. I write about consequence and cost of what it means, for my longing, what it costs for me to live a life fulfilled, and as being black and visible, how that’s not the default comfort in the environment I live in.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
I always read and wrote poems when I was young, but I didn’t take a critical eye towards the work until I was in my late 20s. I came from the performance world, so many of the poets that made me want to write could also perform to great effect. Those poets included Patricia Smith & Dasha Kelly primarily. That started me on the journey of valuing craft, and I had the opportunity to attend classes taught by Henri Cole. That was when I realized this was not only something I wanted to do, but something worth my fear of failure to accomplish.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
“Oh, but I thought you said you were an athlete?” Or, “But you seem like, cool.” Or, “If you’re a poet, why do you work here?” The latter being the insinuation that poet meant famous poet or at least lucrative enough a vocation that working a day job seemed absurd. That probably made me laugh the hardest.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
All the time. A great majority of my poems. Because I draw upon very real circumstances, events, people, often eulogizing them in some way, there is a cost to doing so. Am I ever betraying a moment or trust? And not in a way of betraying privacy, but in a manner of, does a thing lose a significance if physically recorded and disseminated to those who can only be spectators? I think about this a great deal, but when I thought about it to the point of paralysis, I realized I wasn’t writing the poems that were demanded of me.

William Evans is an author, speaker, performer and instructor from Columbus, OH. As the founder of the Writing Wrongs Poetry Slam, William created one of the most reputable open mic and slam venues in the country. William is also the co-founder and editor-in chief of, a website focused on pop culture and diversity. As an artist, William is one the most successful performance poets to come from Columbus and the state of Ohio as a whole. He appeared on three finals stages at the National level, most recently finishing fifth overall at the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam. He has performed on eight Columbus National Teams while being an artist in residence for both the Columbus Wexner Center and Columbus City Schools in beginning in 2012. William is as a Callaloo Fellow, the poetry recipient of 2016 Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant and the 2018 Spirit of Columbus Foundation Grant. William’s newest poetry manuscript, Still Can’t Do My Daughter’s Hair, was released on Button Poetry in Fall 2017. 

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