How to Create an Accessible Festival or Event: Lessons Learned 

Posted on by Ysabel Gonzalez
Leslie McIntosh, Avra Wing, Kathi Wolfe, and Seth Reeder sit on the Victoria Theater stage in NJPAC, against a blue backdrop and the Dodge Poetry Festival 2022 logo
From left to right, Leslie McIntosh, Avra Wing, Kathi Wolfe, and Seth Reeder sit on the Victoria Theater stage in NJPAC, against a blue backdrop and the Dodge Poetry Festival 2022 logo, for a session curated by Zoeglossia. Photo by Alex Towle Photography, 2022.

Dodge Poetry believes that everyone should be able to bring their most authentic selves to all of our events, which means providing resources so that everyone can enjoy and participate in our programming.  Our team embarked on a journey of learning about accessibility with curiosity and even a bit of trepidation, since we were learning while doing. Our deepest aha moments came by having conversations with individuals and organizations who are doing work in the areas of ADA compliance and working directly with communities that are differently abled.   

We also attended enlightening webinars that modeled best practices around language in disabilities communities, and how to hold events that are accessible both in-person and virtually. Some of the webinars we attended were hosted by LaVant Consulting, founded by a Black disabled woman, and which describes their organization as a “social impact strategy and communications firm dedicated to shaping the way the world reaches, views, and values people with disabilities.” They greatly helped us to better understand how to foster a more meaningful culture of belonging, particularly amongst individuals with disabilities.  

While our team continues to explore ways our programming can be more accessible, we thought we would share lessons learned so far so that your organization can think about how to make your Festival or event more accessible. 

 Broadcast Your Accommodations 

One of the biggest lessons learned as we spoke to folks from the disabilities communities is that, although we had provided CART captions for over 20 years, we never shared this information on our website or on social media, and we did not provide a dedicated phone and email for contacting us with accommodations requests or concerns.  

Broadcasting the accommodations you’ll be providing is extremely helpful so that 1) individuals from the community know how comfortable and accessible the event will be for them and 2) you are modeling to other organizations and communities the value of making an event accessible, and you are providing ideas around how they too can be more inclusive.   

Something we could have done better was asking folks from the disabilities community after our event: if you felt comfortable and welcome at our event, please tell your friends so that others learn more about our event’s level of accessibility. 

Budget Your Way to Accessibility 

We decided to make a budget line just for accessibility so that we can clearly budget and plan for it. We met with businesses that provide CART captioning; ASL interpretation; assisted listening devices; and organizations that provide continued consultation and guidance around accessibility, so that we could get estimates which provided parameters on how to budget.  Don’t forget to give yourself a cushion in case there are unexpected expenses.  We found that there were many budget items that we didn’t anticipate, particularly as we planned for an event that was both livestreamed and in-person. For example, we learned that for longer events, ASL signers typically need to work in teams and hand off signing to each other.  If you work with an experienced organization, you will not only be able to get a realistic estimate for this work, but the organization will also be able to provide a variety of signers that are diverse in race and gender. We hired SignNexus, founded by a woman of color who prioritizes hiring diverse signers. 

Within that same vein, we suggest you budget and plan for an ideal and truly accessible event. For example, we learned that CART captioning and signing is not the same accommodation, so we budgeted and planned to have both in as many performance spaces as we could.  In the end, if you need to cut accommodations due to a limited budget, ask questions of a consultant who is an expert in event accessibility in order to make decisions around what you may want to scale down. We also asked our attendees to inform us of the accommodations they needed leading up to our event—this gave us an idea of what accommodations we absolutely needed to provide. We learned that the more  accommodations we provided, the more different types of folks could attend; thus, a variety of community members who could truly get to experience and enjoy our event. 

Perform a Site Tour 

In order for things to go smoothly, we performed a site tour to be sure we understood how our footprint and venues were laid out physically for individuals with disabilities.  In fact, we assessed all our venues with two tremendous consultants, both with ties to our city-partner of Newark. Diane Feldman, who uses a wheelchair, and Krystle Allen, who identifies as someone who is blind, were incredibly attentive and had many notes for us as we went from venue to venue. They caught things that we might not have if we didn’t have them with us.  Here are some things we discovered and asked ourselves: 

  • Did our sidewalks have curb cutouts for individuals using wheelchairs or scooters? We started to think about attendees who would be moving from venue to venue.  How could we work with Newark (i.e. placing boards on sidewalks) so that sidewalks were more accessible? 
  • Our event had multiple venues, and there weren’t many sidewalk cutouts. Some of the venues were quite far from each other, so we considered a budget for a wheelchair accessible shuttle. We were very grateful to have Rutgers University-Newark donate two of their University shuttles to our event. Next time, we’d like to post the shuttle times in our program so that our audience knows when to expect the shuttle. 
  • We were grateful to be in clear communication with the Newark Police Department.  We had started to have conversations with them about the timing of our Festival footprint’s streetlights. Some of the counters were too short and just don’t give our audiences enough time to cross.  
  • We also had conversations with venues about the accessibility of their elevators. Some of our elevators could not be found easily and we needed a volunteer posted onsite to direct our attendees.  Other elevators needed someone on staff to use a key in order to activate the elevator. In most cases we realized it wasn’t enough to have an accessible elevator, we also needed someone present to point our attendees in the right direction. 

 Another aha moment for our team came at one of our Festivals several years ago. We had performed a site tour with our consultants and given much consideration to individuals with disabilities in our audience; however, we neglected to think about our very own performers who might be using a wheelchair in a venue that did not have a ramp to the stage.  In moments like these, we felt embarrassed at our oversight; but the moment encouraged us to lean in even more to make our events more accessible and think about the entirety of our community. 

Bathrooms, Bathrooms, Bathrooms… 

Our team had not given much thought to accessible bathrooms in the past, and this consideration greatly makes a difference; we want our attendees to feel comfortable and have access to basic needs. We have begun to ask ourselves questions of our venues, like do they have accessible bathrooms? Do our venues have family bathrooms? And do our venues have gender neutral bathrooms? 

Be Intentional with the Virtual 

Because our last Festival was both in-person and virtual, we learned to manage both and to consider the needs of both our audiences arriving in-person and our audiences at home. We learned that when recording a live event, we should have a camera focused on the ASL interpreter and another on the performer, if possible.  We learned to be sure our online audience can clearly see the ASL signer. If you’re having a portion of your event online, don’t forget you’ll need a dedicated CART captioner, too.  We had difficulty identifying a team large enough to handle our CART captioning requests because some of our events were simultaneous, and our days were long; we’ve been lucky to work with the CART captioning team at Garden State Captioning who always does a terrific job for us and goes above and beyond. 

Petra Kuppers reads at the 2022 Festival. Yellow captions across the bottom read “Beyond the portal a cathedral opens.” In the bottom right corner, an ASL interpreter from SignNexus provides signing for the audience.

Gather Materials in Advance 

Perhaps one of our biggest, yet most important lifts, was preparing our CART captioners and ASL interpreters.  We learned the importance of requesting materials from our performers in advance to send to our ASL and captioning teams so that these teams were not only prepared but could be intentional with accuracy by either plugging entire poems into captioning, or being familiar with the work so that they can know how to sign appropriately.  Performers did get nervous about the fact that their materials, like their poems, might change leading up to the performance, and that’s okay.  It’s important to remind the performers that the more materials the ASL and captioning team have in advance, the more accurately and justly they can serve communities with disabilities. One of the easiest ways to get documents to all the teams was by creating a Google folder so that when poems were sent to a dedicated email, we could easily upload them to one shared folder for all to access. We also prepared signers with the line-up in advance; experienced organizations will assign signers to performers, and there will be a smooth transition onstage when signers hand off to each other.   

Other Ways to Be More Inclusive 

  • We were reminded to save seating in the front of our performance venue so that audiences who’d like to can sit closer to the stage to see ASL interpreters and CART captioning.  On our High School Student Day, when we receive thousands of student attendees, we set aside even more seating for a group of students who were deaf who wanted to be able to see the ASL team. Being cognizant of who is in our audience really helped us make that decision.  We also reserved spaces at the front of our performance space for those who use wheelchairs or scooters. 
  • We talked with our printer about getting large-print programs for those with impaired visibility. 
  • We’ve noted that our website is in deep need of an audit in order to determine ways it can be most accessible for users, including considering screen readers which may not be able to read PDF files on our site, along with our website’s color contrast. 


Ultimately, we do this work so that all folks can bring their most authentic selves into our spaces. We hope this is informative and that it may stir questions or prompt ideas. We hope to continue to learn on our journey and discover ways we can continue to have individuals from disabilities communities feel seen and feel they belong. In fact, we’d love to hear what we might have missed or other ideas you might have for us!  Email us at to connect. 

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Remembering Gerald Stern

Posted on by Dodge Poetry
Photograph of Gerald Stern by Mark Hillringhouse.

Poet and photographer Mark Hillringhouse, who took the photograph above of Gerald Stern at home in Lambertville, New Jersey, tells us it was one of Jerry’s favorites of himself. It shows him at the kitchen table, writing in longhand on looseleaf paper with a Bic pen, which was his practice, and laughing at himself over something he’d just written or said.

Poets who write at the kitchen table don’t draw boundaries between their art and domestic life, often from necessity. They learn to write amidst the everyday sounds, smells, dramas and joys of the family table because a desk in a private study is an unhoped-for luxury.  This is quintessential Gerald Stern: Seating himself squarely at the heart of everyday life, working with the same tools he’d probably been using since learning to write as a boy, utterly unpretentious, rooted in practical necessities, always ready to laugh at life and himself, and somehow making something incandescent out of it all, out of everything and anything: potatoes and refrigerators, grackles and squirrels, refinery towers, cars overheating in traffic jams, the azaleas and hydrangeas out the window.

From these mundane materials he forged a unique voice that was at once intimate and vatic, one-part conspiratorial confidante, one-part Biblical prophet. He was a singer of lamentations and an ecstatic; outraged by our capacity for pettiness and meanness and awed by our potential for kindness. He was at once a mourner for the broken-hearted and a celebrant of the joy song can summon in us. To hear him read, as he did during his seven appearances at the Dodge Poetry Festival, is to enter a place where incantation and common speech merge into something new: the poetry of Gerald Stern. He is missed by the past and present members of the Dodge Poetry Program.

–Martin Farawell, Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program Director

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Poetry Fridays: Wishing You Moments of Peace

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

Marie Howe’s “Part of Eve’s Discussion” captures a moment when the world changes irreversibly. We have felt somewhat suspended in such a moment for nearly two years now, and still can’t predict how the world will be changed as we go forward. Yet Howe’s poem, like poetry itself, reminds us to be more attentive to the moments we have. Her second poem, “The Moment,” wishes us respite from the worries and fears that whir, sometimes it seems unceasingly, around and within us. 

As we pass the longest night of the year, move through a season of feasts and celebration, and welcome a new year, we at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program wish you all such a moment of peace, and then another and another, today and every day of the year ahead.  

Happy Holidays, 

Martin, Ysabel, Victoria, Wendy, David and Clarise 

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Submissions Open for DPF2022

Posted on by Dodge Poetry
Poets (left to right) Joy Ladin, Paul Tran and Natalie Scenters-Zapico at the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival. Photo by Alex Towle.

It feels like just yesterday that we wrapped up the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival (which ran from October 22 – November 1 this past fall), but it’s been a few months now, and it’s time to start thinking about 2022!

We’re excited to announce that we are now accepting submissions for the next Dodge Poetry Festival, which will take place in the fall of 2022.

If you’re interested in submitting to read at the Festival, check out our Submission Guidelines and Submission FAQ pages for detailed instructions and information and to find a link to the submission form. Here are some additional helpful tips:

  1. Audio and/or video clips are really important
    One component of a complete submission is 1-3 audio or video recordings of you reading your poems aloud. Don’t worry–we’re not demanding professional-quality recordings. Since we are curating a live event, it is important for the review panel to have a chance to see and hear you reading your work.

    As you know, experiencing poetry out loud is very different from reading it on the page. A poem can take on a whole new layer of meaning and energy from the poet delivering it. There’s nothing like seeing and hearing how a poet connects and engages with their audience in-person. If you have a video or audio of you reading in front of a live audience, that would be ideal.

    We don’t expect every poet to be a performance poet. Over the years, Festival Poets have had many different reading styles. One thing they have in common is being attentive, engaging and connecting to audience and other poets.
  2. Show us a work sample that best represents you
    We ask for a sample of up to 20 pages of your poetry that best represents you and your work as you would like to share it at the Festival. If you have work published, such as books or a chapbook, why do we ask for this sample?

    You may have published work that you’re proud of and want us to see, but have other poems you’ve learned are more effective with a live audience. The reading sample is an opportunity to not only share some of the work you’re most excited about and proud of, but also the poems you would like to read aloud to an audience that will likely include many who have never heard you read before. (We understand that what you are excited to read may change by 2022, so you’re not beholden to these poems.)

    This sample also provides an opportunity for poets who do not have a published book or chapbook to show their work and put their best foot forward, alongside the audio or video materials.
  3. Take your time with the short responses
    Instead of asking for a formal cover letter and resume, we decided to simplify things a bit and ask you a few specific questions to help us get to know you.

    It’s a good idea to take some time and be thoughtful with your responses to these questions to help paint a picture of who you are, what’s important to you, what you want to bring to the Festival, the types of conversations you would want to have there, and how you would connect with other poets, students, teachers and poetry-lovers.

    Reading poems aloud is just one aspect of the Festival–participating in rich conversations across many different boundaries of identity, and connecting with others through poetry and conversation, are at the heart of the Dodge Poetry Festival. Your responses to these questions help to show how you would want to show up, connect and engage at the Festival, as well as what would make you feel most connected and included there.

These are just a few things to consider when putting together your submission materials. Please review the Submission Guidelines and FAQs before submitting to make sure you have all of the necessary materials–and be sure to submit by the deadline of October 15, 2021.

Thank you so much for your support and interest in the Dodge Poetry Festival! Feel free to share this post with anyone you think might be interested in submitting to read at the next Festival.

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Poetry for Valentine’s Day

Posted on by Dodge Poetry
Photo from 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival session, Hold My Hand: On Intimacy and Poetry with Natalie Diaz, Ada Limón. Moderated by Ysabel Y. González

Valentine’s Day is a special time for poetry–a day when many people turn to poets for help expressing their love to someone special.

Of course, romantic love doesn’t have a monopoly on great poetry. Poets can help us find words to express our affection and appreciation for friends, family, animals, the natural world and ourselves.

If you want inspiration for your greeting cards, or are simply looking to infuse your day with a little more love, here are a few 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival sessions you might want to check out this weekend. Simply visit, click “View Passes” and pay what you can to access all of the Festival videos.

HOLD MY HAND: ON INTIMACY AND POETRY with Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón, moderated by Ysabel Y. González (Aired on Saturday, October 24)

Natalie Diaz and Ada Limón discuss their collaborative project, Envelopes of Air. They talk about their friendship and the ways in which intimacy, landscape, and bodyscape show up in their poems. And they explore the role poets play in cultivating intimacy and breaking down walls—with other writers, with readers, and within their own communities. Moderated by Ysabel Y. González

THE BELOVED, a poetry and song collaboration with poet Gregory Orr and alt-folk group Parkington Sisters (Aired on Saturday, October 31)

…because of the beloved, I come into being
under her touch, all of me shudders

from The Beloved by Gregory Orr

We can’t go to concerts in person, but we can curl up at home for an intimate and moving performance by Gregory Orr and the Parkington Sisters.

Gregory Orr and the Parkington Sisters perform “The Beloved” poetry and song cycle at the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival

FESTIVAL POET READING featuring Zeina Hashem Beck, Kai Coggin, Jessica Jacobs, John Murillo, Ladan Osman, Emily Skaja (Aired on Saturday, October 31)

In this series of readings by several poets at the 2020 Festival, you’ll hear poems that speak to different types of love:

Zeina Hashem Beck‘s poems touch upon love of place and language, as well as love for her husband. In “Fools Rush In,” she shares snapshots of young love from their school days:

“Oh days of mixed tapes,
Oh copy books of scribbled songs
Oh years of love notes smuggled under classroom tables”

from “Fools rush in” by zeina hashem beck

Kai Coggin‘s “Constant Before Picture” speaks to learning self-love, and Jessica Jacobs‘ poetry from Take Me With You Wherever You’re Going, explores the complexities of love and long-term commitment, including an ode to her wife’s hair.

Check out these sessions and many more at

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Honoring Black History Month with Poetry

Posted on by Dodge Poetry

Black poets have played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of American poetry. In honor of Black History Month, we’re sharing a list of just some of the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival videos to revisit or watch for the first time this February, including sessions curated by Cave Canem and the Academy of American Poets.  

Visit to register and gain access to all of the Festival session videos by paying what you can. Educators and students register for free.  

Once registered, you can find all the Festival readings and conversations organized by the day they aired.  (We’re working on an even more user-friendly website with more search features. Stay tuned!) 

A screenshot from the DPF2020 session “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” presented by Cave Canem and featuring poets Yona Harvey, Cherene Sherrard and Kush Thompson.

2020 Dodge Poetry Festival Sessions to watch during Black History Month (and every other month of the year)

THE SKIN YOU’RE LIVING IN: Reginald Dwayne Betts, Kyle Dargan, Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson. Moderated by khalil murrell (Aired on Sunday, October 25)  

In “Blink Your Eyes,” Sekou Sundiata’s poem about a traffic stop, he writes that what might happen in the blink of an eye, “all depends on the skin you’re living in.” Poets Reginald Dwayne Betts, Kyle Dargan, Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess and Cyrée Jarelle Johnson explore questions about the evolution of their aesthetics, how they tie into issues of identity, and how they do or don’t feel compelled to write as “black male poets” in this time. Moderated by khalil murrell. 

BLACK FUTURES, BLACK PASTS presented by Cave Canem: Yona Harvey, Cherene Sherrard. Moderated by Kush Thompson (Aired on October 25)  

Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love investigates Black futures and possibilities via the supernatural and Afro-futurism, while Cherene Sherrard uses one of the earliest cookbooks published by an African American woman to memorialize the past in her newest poetry collection, Grimoire. Presented by Cave Canem, in “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” Harvey and Sherrard read from their recent books and talk with Cave Canem fellow Kush Thompson about centering Black womanhood in their work. Introduction by Malcolm Tariq, Programs and Communications Manager, Cave Canem. 

POETS FORUM: POETRY AND POEMS IN SUPPORT OF BLACK LIVES: Kwame Dawes, Terrance Hayes (Aired on Friday, October 30)  

Academy Chancellors Kwame Dawes and Terrance Hayes continue their long-standing commitment to celebrating the value and persistent relevance of art, and especially poetry in our world today. For both poets, the poet’s obligation to record, to leave a record of experiences (ordinary, human and sincere) and of their bodies’ existence in the historical moment is as radical and revolutionary and urgent as any protest poem might be. 

AMERICAN POETRIESCornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Edward Hirsch, Paisley Rekdal. Moderated by Martin J. Farawell (Aired on Saturday, October 24)  

Adrienne Rich wrote that there is no such thing as an “American Poetry.” Instead, there are American Poetries—so many divergent schools that no single style or aesthetic can be singled out as the definitively “American” one. Cornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Edward Hirsch and Paisley Rekdal consider what we gain from this diversity and by listening more closely to each other. Moderated by Martin J. Farawell. 

I AM NOT FREE WHILE ANY WOMAN IS UNFREE: Vievee Francis, Paisley Rekdal, Emily Skaja, Monica Sok. Moderated by Naomi Extra (Aired on Sunday, October 25) 

Poet Audre Lorde once said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Almost forty years later, her words are still poignant and relevant. What does it look like when women writers are in community with each other, writing for and with each other? How does this continue to transform the poems that they and others write, the canon, the poetry community and other communities? Participating poets include Vievee Francis, Paisley Rekdal, Emily Skaja and Monica Sok. Moderated by Naomi Extra. 

ON CRAFT: Vievee Francis (Aired on Thursday, October 29) 

Vievee Francis considers and discusses questions related to the craft of making poems. What is the larger purpose of craft? What are the rewards of trying to master it? How do work schedules, patterns of revision, the uses of traditional forms, the subtleties of line breaks or the place of sound and phrasing in composition come into play when considering craft?

Tyehimba Jess sharing poems in his reading aired on Thursday, October 29, 2020


Main Stage reading with Reginald Dwayne Betts and Nikky Finney (Aired on Saturday, October 31) 

Main Stage Reading with Cornelius Eady (Aired on Friday, October 30) 

Main Stage Reading with Tyehimba Jess (Aired on Thursday, October 29) 

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How to join us for #DPF2020 and reduce plastic while home

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We are very excited to share information about the virtual Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, taking place Oct. 22 through Nov. 1! 

Our first-ever virtual Festival is free and features over 100 beloved and exciting emerging poets.

You can view a schedule of Festival events here, beginning with the 7 p.m. Opening Celebration tomorrow. These events include poetry readings and conversations on topics such as “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” “Poetry and Climate Justice,” “How to Read a Poem,” and “Poets for Teachers.”

All Festival attendees can access videos on-demand after they air or join us live for Q&A sessions with poets and events in our virtual Community Room, including Community Conversations, Drinks & Discussion, Open Mic, Gentle yoga sessions

Special programming designed for high school students will take place 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST on Oct. 26-30. High school teachers and students interested in attending those sessions will receive more details when they sign up for an Education Pass and mark that they are interested in High School Student Programming in the registration form. 

Here’s how to get your Pass:

1. Visit 

2. Click “View Passes” in the top right corner and choose the Pass that’s right for you

3. Submit the registration form

How to reduce plastic waste and COVID-19 from home

Small changes add up to make a big impact when it comes to environmental justice — even during a pandemic. 

Since 2010, Dodge has sought to live our value of sustainability, model leadership in how we run events, and be good neighbors through the Dodge Poetry Festival zero-waste initiative.

This year, we are once again proud to be partnering with Clean Water Action, through its Rethink Disposables program, to make it easy for Festival-goers to use less plastic and produce less trash during their at-home experience while reducing their exposure to COVID-19. 

You can watch The Environment Has No Walls, a behind-the-scenes video about the initiative from #DPF2018, here.

We invite you to put the tips above into action and learn more here

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Dodge Q&A: Ysabel Y. Gonzalez on creating, dismantling the why during times of crisis

Posted on by Dodge
On Martin Luther King Boulevard between the Essex County Historic Courthouse and the Veterans’ Courthouse in Newark, the words “ABOLISH WHITE SUPREMACY” were installed and painted in bright yellow traffic paint from curb to curb. On Halsey Street, east of the Rutgers campus the words “ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER,” in the same font as the MLK street mural, taking up a City block. Learn more here. Photo credit: Photo Credit: Isaac Jiménez 

The Dodge Q&A series is designed to share what Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation staff are learning and thinking about as they engage with social sector leaders from throughout the state. They’ll also reveal a few things about themselves you might not have known.  

Ysabel Y. Gonzalez is assistant director of the Dodge Poetry Program.

Today we talk to Ysabel Y. Gonzalez, Dodge Poetry Program assistant director, about what’s keeping her moving forward in a time of multiple crises, how she is prioritizing racial justice, the virtual Dodge Poetry Festival, her hidden talent, and more. 

Before we jump into the conversation, how are you navigating the multiple crises we’re experiencing, namely the COVID-19 pandemic and community uprisings demanding justice? 

It’s been a really difficult period for us all. This spring and summer have been particularly difficult for me since I lost my uncle to COVID. But I have been grateful for my community, and family, gathering together around the pandemic as well as standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. A group of poets and I are working on a project entitled, Broadsides for Breonna, where we will be offering broadsides by local and national poets for large donations that support organizations doing work with the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly in support of Black women. I’ve also been lucky in that I’ve been able to create new work during this time that is in conversation with this period of our lives — including poetry and an essay.  So, I’ve been busy, however, I do think it’s important that we acknowledge that if we’ve been unable to create during the last few months, that’s okay, too. I know some folks are simply trying to survive right now, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.   

What is important to keep in mind right now? 

In terms of social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s important to remember that this is more than just centering a conversation around a historically marginalized and impeded group of Black and Brown lives, it is also about stepping aside and supporting those lives by serving as co-conspirator. We keep hearing the word ally, but it’s much more complex than simply standing by Black and Brown people’s sides. It’s taking the heat, it’s doing the work, and it’s giving up power. These are all incredibly difficult things to do, so if it doesn’t feel hard, then you may not be putting in the kind of work to grow, develop, and challenge the impediments that exist preventing Black and Brown lives from thriving.   

What is something you are proud you helped achieve? 

I’m so excited to have helped the Dodge Poetry Festival go virtual this year. It was a difficult decision for us because we cherish the DPF in-person experience and have some fantastic poets lined up for this year’s Festival. We are working hard to think about ways we can re-create what makes the Festival feel unique, such as the connections that occur off the stage, along with the incredible conversations that occur in sessions amongst a diverse set of poets. And I’m very excited about making the Festival accessible to more people. This is really important to me.  I’m excited to see folks who may not have been able to join us due to lack of resources or location, now be able to find us online. We are offering live sessions at no cost to our public, so I hope that’s encouraging to people who have had the price of a ticket held as a hurdle. I’m also excited about being able to provide accessible programming to individuals who live in other wards of Newark and other parts of the state of New Jersey — heck, I’m excited about us providing poetry to other parts of the world! It’s an opportunity for Dodge Poetry to provide engaging, interesting poetry and touch someone who maybe has thought, for years, that poetry wasn’t for them. Or provide a reading and conversation amongst poets who people typically wouldn’t see in conversation with each other. It’s an exciting time to host a Festival because there are so many possibilities. I think if audience members remain hopeful and positive, they will get something new out of this year’s virtual Festival. I’m excited for our audience to engage with a very special experience we’re putting together.  

Dodge Poetry Festival will be all-online this year.

What is an example of how you have prioritized racial equity and inclusion in your work? What was the most challenging part of that work?  

I’m constantly challenging myself and my colleagues on how we can place equity at the forefront of all the things that we do at Dodge. Sometimes, the reason it’s so difficult is because we’re used to doing things the way we’ve always done them. I applaud my colleagues who, since we’ve begun the DEI journey at Dodge, have questioned processes that have been in place for years. It’s quite difficult to push the question around why we do things. It’s difficult because sometimes dismantling the why is rooted in things much deeper and far more grounded in a larger more complex system.  

As far as my own work, I believe that transparency and accessibility are two really important values for me at Dodge. I have been working with our Poetry team here in thinking about ways that we can be more transparent with our different constituents so that there is more understanding around Dodge Poetry’s values and decision-making, particularly around the work we do with poets in the schools. I also continue to think about ways the Festival itself can be made more accessible to those that wouldn’t typically be engaged or involved — either as performers/readers or as attendees.  There are lots of challenging parts of equity work, but getting it wrong, and being okay with getting it wrong and learning from that, is challenging, especially when perfectionism is embedded in our everyday culture.   

What would people be surprised to know about you?   

Between the ages of 8-18, I was a virtuoso accordion player! I’ve won many, many trophies in my accordion-playing days and loved to play everything from polkas to pop music. I competed in bands, in combos, in a duet and, of course, as a solo instrumentalist. The accordion remains a very important instrument to me, although I haven’t played in years. I learned after I picked it up that my grandfather used to play. I’m determined to pick up the accordion again one day and play for enjoyment! 

What do you love most about New Jersey? 

I love New Jersey’s expansive landscape. It’s such a large state and you can find pine barrens, lakes and oceans, and city life, moving from one county to the next. I grew up in the city of Newark, riding mass transit to Jersey City and NYC easily. I also have lived closer to the shore in Old Bridge, then the bustling little city of Somerville; and now, finally I reside in Warren County. I never would have expected to own a home so far from city life. There is just so much land here and I’m privileged to have a large backyard filled with a peach tree and fig trees and lots of flowers that the deer love to eat! Living in New Jersey, you can have many different experiences with the state’s geography. This great state’s land produces such fresh produce — lots of homegrown fruits and veggies available at the tips of our fingertips. 

Do you have a question for Dodge staff? Leave it in the comments or send us an email at

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Going virtual with #DPF20

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Every other year since 1986, the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival has often gone off with hardly a discernible hitch. But life, of course, has its twists and turns, and the Festival has prevailed through some really unexpected ones.

Who could forget the Festival in 2004, when a deluge of rain turned the grounds at Duke Farms into a muddy poetry wonderland?

High School Students at the 2004 Dodge Poetry Festival held at Duke Farms.

And you might recall that during our last Festival in 2018, an underground transformer fire in downtown Newark caused the entire Festival footprint to lose power on Saturday evening. We cancelled our programming that night, but resumed first thing Sunday morning!

Now, in the 2020 Festival year, we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic that makes large gatherings like our Festival potentially dangerous for the people we care about so much: our audiences, Festival Poets, Dodge personnel, New Jersey Performing Arts Center staff, and Newark residents who support us as volunteers and site crew.

Some 2018 Festival Poets at dinner. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

So, how are we adapting to this unexpected turn of events?

This year, we’re going virtual.

A fully-online 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival will stream into homes around the globe this fall. We’ll share readings and conversations, panel talks, performances, and opportunities for you to interact with Festival Poets and other attendees.

The Festival Poets and Academy of American Poets’ Chancellors, announced last fall, will still be joining us, and we’ll be announcing additional poets and performers over the next few months. 

Dodge Poetry Festival 2018 681 Dodge Poetry Festival Newark, New Jersey 10/18-21, 2018 Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

In the name of access and equity, live streaming of the 2020 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival will be offered online at no charge. Performances on-demand will be available to the general public for a nominal subscription fee. Schools and teachers that register in advance will have free full access. We will continue to support diverse poets by also providing relief for COVID-19’s impact on nonprofit organizations that support poets of color, the LGBTQ community, and poets with disabilities.

Representatives from the NJPAC Box Office will be reaching out to current ticket holders in the next few days to issue them a full refund.

NJPAC Box Office staff and volunteers assisting attendees at the 2018 Festival. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

Over the years, each time a big curveball has come our way, we’ve watched as Festival Poets and attendees, venue partners, and volunteers have responded with graciousness, good humor, and dedication to making something beautiful out of the change in plans. Without a doubt, the poetry community is remarkably resilient and kind.   

We’re sad that we won’t all be together in-person this year, and disappointed that our 10-year anniversary of hosting the Festival in Newark won’t take place physically in Newark.

But we’re also excited to expand the Dodge Poetry Festival community and provide greater access to contemporary poetry and poets. As we design the virtual Festival, we will keep at its core everything that makes the Dodge Poetry Festival so special: poetry, community, connection, and heart.

Thanks for making the Festival so special for over 30 years. We can’t wait to see you online this fall.

To stay up to date, please join our mailing list and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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“The way anger dwells in a man / Who studies the history of his nation”

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On Tuesday, our President & CEO Tanuja Dehne took to the Dodge Blog to state the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s commitment to anti-racism and condemnation of white supremacy. You can read her full remarks here.

In addition, Dodge Poetry is sharing just a few videos from our archive that speak to the impact of centuries of systemic violence against black lives.  

The title of today’s blog post comes from Jericho Brown’s poem “I am a Virus.”

Jericho Brown reads his poem “I Am a Virus” for Dodge Poetry’s “Whose Body?” project, March 2018.
Lucille Clifton reads “What Haunts Him” and “Sorrows” at the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival.
Rita Dove reads her poems “Canary,” “Teach Us to Number Our Days,” “Cholera,” and “The Spring Cricket” at the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival.

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Celebrating a New Tradition: the Newark High School Poetry Festival

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We are so grateful to the city of Newark and the communities that live and work there for welcoming the Dodge Poetry Festival with warmth, kindness and absolute love for poetry when we host our Festival in the downtown arts district every other year. We want to make sure to offer a Dodge Poetry experience for Newark students every fall, not just when the national Festival is in town. That’s why we created the biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival in October 2017, and we were so happy to host the second one last month, on October 24, 2019, at the Rutgers-Newark Paul Robeson Student Center.

About 500 students and teachers from every public high school in Newark attended the festival, thanks to the diligent work of Margaret El, Director of Visual & Performing Arts for the Newark Public School District, who is always the ultimate champion for making sure Newark students get to the Dodge Poetry Festival and experience poetry (and all of the arts) in a deeply meaningful way.

Poets Nicole Homer, Mia X and Naomi Extra talk about "Poetry and Herstory." Photo by Marisa Benson.

Poets Nicole Homer, Mia X and Naomi Extra talk about “Poetry and Herstory.” Photo by Marisa Benson.

Throughout the day, students moved among spaces in the Paul Robeson Center for a variety of different poetry experiences, with sessions led by an outstanding lineup of poets, most of whom have a close personal connection to Newark, or even call the city home: Ana Portnoy Brimmer, Naomi Extra, Reg E. Gaines, Nicole Homer, Khalil Murrell, Vincent Toro, Joe Weil and Mia X.

When they first arrived in the morning, students were treated to a poetry and music jam between poets and saxophonist Irwin Hall. Then the students broke out into smaller sessions—some sessions featured several poets reading poems, conversing and addressing questions about a topic (like politics, the art of storytelling, or “herstory”), while others joined a single poet to learn more about that poet’s life. Still others journeyed to the Dance Theater for a performance workshop. Every group experienced three different sessions, giving them the chance to meet different poets and connect with poetry in different ways. The poets told us at lunchtime that they were blown away by the students’ thoughtful questions and expressed how deeply moved they were by their interactions.

Poets Ana Portnoy Brimmer and Vincent Toro. Photo by Marisa Benson.

Poets Ana Portnoy Brimmer and Vincent Toro. Photo by Marisa Benson.

We want to give a huge thank you to Rutgers-Newark for donating the space for the day, to Sonam Shah, her excellent staff and the lovely NJPAC volunteers for making sure everything ran smoothly—and for being so pleasant throughout it all, no matter what challenges arose.

And of course, thank you to the poets, the teachers and the students for bringing their open hearts and minds, their love for poetry and stories, and their attentiveness to the art and each other. We’re so happy to have started this tradition and look forward to many more.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Archives, Poetry in the Schools, Poets, Tidbits | 1 Comment

Newark High School Poetry Festival: Joe Weil

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This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. Joe Weil is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

Joe Weil blog photoWhat is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I’ve discovered I still like to rhyme and have been exploring everything from nursery rhymes to old Irish forms where the rhyme schemes are very tricky.

What poem by another poet do you wish you had written and why?

I wish I’d written “The Soldier and the Snow” by Miguel Hernandez because of its beauty and its amazing control which I guess he picked up while reading the classic Spanish poets.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?

My old neighbor Mrs. Sacchia was still alive when a camera crew from NJPBS took me to the street I grew up on. She saw me, remembered me, and embraced me. She was over 90. She said: “Joseph! A Camera? What have you done?” I said: “I’m a poet Mrs. Sacchia.” She crossed herself and said “Well it’s better to be that than a murderer.”

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

The first time I read a poem, the podium was on an uneven floor and I shook so badly, it started knocking about as if it were possessed. I am always a little nervous. Sometimes I write things people might not be able to hear yet. Sometimes I tell unflattering truths about myself.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Don’t over define what poetry can be. Start with the phrase “Acts of language.” What’s an act of language you really like? What’s something you think has been said just so, where the how it was said was just as important as what was said. Begin there. Collect these acts of language, then have them start playing with words, with spacing, with shapes. Go from there.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

I worked construction in my 30’s, at least part-time, and I worked with these guys from Brazil. We sat on a porch in Down Neck drinking beer, and eating chicken hearts on tooth picks with hot sauce. The beer was really cold and we had worked all day breaking concrete and pouring cement. I remember letting the tiredness drink me while I drank the beer. It was off of Olive Street. Chicken hearts taste really good, though I guess they’re not for everyone. You do need the hot sauce.

What are you currently reading?

Student’s poems!

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Newark High School Poetry Festival: khalil murrell

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This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. khalil murrell is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

khalil murrell blog photoHave you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

At least half of the things I write I’m afraid to share, but I share them anyway. Part of my draw to poetry emerged from attempting to push past my discomfort, to explore the things that made me afraid.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, what did you write about? 

I actually began writing poetry in college. I saw this movie named Love Jones (1997), a love story that centered around two lovers who met in a speakeasy. Both of the main characters recited a poem, “Brotha to the Night” (Regie Gibson) and “I Am Looking at Music” (Sonia Sanchez). I remember hearing “Brotha to the Night,” thinking, “Man, I want to do something like that.” Later, I started performing at various spoken word venues around Philly.

Do you have a favorite spot in Newark? A park, restaurant, open mic venue, etc.?

I usually watch the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs at Burger Walla on my block. I like the trash talking and the wings.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading two books by my favorite author, Kiese Laymon–a book of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance, and his recent memoir, Heavy.

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Newark High School Poetry Festival: Nicole Homer

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This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. Nicole Homer is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

Nicole Homer Blog PhotoHave you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

Yes! The poems that became the foundation of my book Pecking Order were originally just for me because I was trying to figure something out about being a mom and about how race played into how I experience that. A lot of it started with what happens to bodies naturally, medically, quietly. There was a large silence surrounding what I was going through, so I tried to write my way into the conversation I wished I had access to. The first time I read one of them out loud I was shaking. The collection I’m working on right now, Fast Tail, is taking shape this same way. I gave myself permission to write whatever I needed to write, and I don’t have to share or publish any of them. I needed to promise myself that so I could do the work I need to do. For me, that fear lets me know I’m exploring in the right direction but doesn’t mean I’m obligated to share it.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Share the poems you love. Start with work that moves you and brings you joy. We can worry about scansion and enjambment and form soon enough. When I was little, my grandmother recited her favorite poem, “Invictus,” for me, and she so visibly loved it. She told me why it moved her, what her favorite lines were, what they meant to her. It was not at all a technical explanation. I moved into a hunger for craft later, but it started with enjoyment. Teachers are in a hard, hard spot in terms of what they must do to meet requirements and what they know will benefit their students, because the two don’t always align. I think with poetry, whenever possible, privilege love of it over everything else because the everything else comes if there’s a love. The urgency of much of contemporary poetry can offer people a way of feeling seen. Poets are writing in context of and in response to this uncertain world; they are not flinching back from discussing race, politics, violence, bodies, gender, and more, so the things that we as humans are preoccupied with are the subjects of poems.

What are you currently reading?

In August, I tried #TheSealeyChallenged, named for Nicole Sealey who challenges us to read one book of poetry every day in August, so I’ve been reading a pretty wide selection of books, from revisiting old favorites to discovering new ones. This morning I read Gregory Orr’s The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write. Tomorrow, I’ll re-read Vievee Francis’s Forest Primeval.

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“Contando Nuestras Historias / Telling Our Stories” with Wind of the Spirit

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Assistant Director of Dodge Poetry Director Ysabel Gonzalez welcoming everyone to the retreat. Photo by Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo.

Ysabel Gonzalez, Assistant Director of Dodge Poetry, says a few welcoming words while poets Ana Portnoy-Brimmer and Ruth Irupe Sanabria look on. Photo by Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo.

The Dodge Poetry Program kicked off an exciting new project in collaboration with Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center on October 5. “Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories” is an initiative providing space for members of Wind of the Spirit’s local Latinx immigrant community to collaborate with Dodge Poets in sharing and documenting their stories.

The seeds for this project were planted earlier this year, when Dodge Poetry hosted a free, public event called “Poetry and Democracy” in our office neighborhood of Morristown, New Jersey. Wind of the Spirit was one of the local social justice organizations we partnered with for the event; organizer Brian Lozano hosted a panel discussion with poet Rigoberto González and several members of the Wind of the Spirit Community, who shared some of their experiences as immigrants in this country.

Wind of the Spirit discussing "Poetry and Democracy," March 2019. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

Rigoberto Gonzalez, members of Wind of the Spirit and Brian Lozano telling stories at “Poetry and Democracy,” March 2019. Photo by Alex Towle Photography.

Through continued conversations with Wind of the Spirit about the power of documenting and sharing these stories, we began to wonder what it could look like if together we hosted regular meetings where members could explore their stories in a safe and supportive environment, with guidance from experienced poets and artists, and a goal of preserving and more widely sharing the materials produced for generations to come.

And that’s how Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories was born.

On Saturday, October 5, Dodge Poetry staff, poets and members from the Wind of the Spirit Community gathered at the Quaker Meeting House in Chatham for a day-long retreat focused on getting to know each other and beginning to open up and do some generative work. Dodge Poets Grisel Acosta, Ana Portnoy-Brimmer and Ruth Irupé Sanabria, along with co-facilitators David Cruz, Dano Mendoza and Jhoan Sebastian Tamayo, led small groups in morning and afternoon sessions of sharing poems, conversing and responding to writing prompts through individual reflection and group sharing.

The whole group got together for ice breakers in the morning, a delicious Caribbean lunch catered by Morristown’s Hibiscus Restaurant in the afternoon, and a powerful closing session at the end of the day, where members reflected on what the day meant for them and their hopes for the coming months. They talked about the memories and experiences they were exploring in writing that day, how difficult and intense and yet necessary it is to talk about them, and how rare it is that they have the opportunity, time and space to explore their stories and art with others who listen and take them seriously.

For the next eight months, Dodge Poets and Wind of the Spirit artists and community members will be convening once a month. The goal of the meetings is to support Wind of the Spirit community members in telling their stories—primarily through the mediums of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, snippets, and oral storytelling.  Community members will share their stories in the language that feels most comfortable to them, primarily Spanish, sometimes English or Spanglish. We’ll also be recording some interviews for those who want an oral record of their stories.

We’re excited to work with Morristown & Morris Township Library to archive the materials that come out of this project, providing a home where stories of love and loss, bravery and resilience, sacrifice and growth, can live on to inform, inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come.  “Contando Nuestras Historias/Telling Our Stories” is about a community coming together to say: “We are here, we matter, and our stories matter.”

Because this is a new project which Dodge Poetry and Wind of the Spirit are venturing on together for the first time, we’re still learning about how to do all of it and are open to seeing what works, what we can do better, and where it all takes us.

We’re so thankful to Wind of the Spirit and all of the members and artists who joined us for the beautiful retreat last Saturday to commence Contando Nuestras Historias. Thank you to Diana Mejia for her ever-open arms that make everyone feel welcome, and to Brian Lozano for his key role in creating this and doing so much translating between English and Spanish throughout today. Thank you also to Meghan Van Dyk, Dodge Foundation Informed Communities Program Officer, for introducing us to Diana and helping to make this partnership happen.

To learn more about Wind of the Spirit and the great work that they do, visit their website.

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