Surely there must be a more expansive word than gratitude for what I experienced during the four days of the 2016 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. It is a feeling of having ones too often closed heart unlock in response to the generosity of others, a response as involuntary as the morning glory’s unfolding toward the rising sun. This generosity was shown by the poets, of course, but by the entire Poetry Festival and Dodge Foundation staffs, the hundreds of Newark locals who volunteered all over downtown, the NJPAC ushers, box office workers, techies and maintenance people who worked so hard and were so gracious, patient, welcoming and hard working.
But the openness and generosity the poets brought to their time with us, especially with students, requires special attention. Vulnerability calls forth a responsive vulnerability in us if we honor that act of courage by allowing ourselves to be present and open. Both the poet and the listener have to be present for each other for this to occur. To be in a space where thousands are listening with their entire selves is to understand the word and act of offering only has meaning in so far as both sides make an equal offering. The poet and listener must give of themselves.
In this world where we so rarely listen to each other, to be in a space of such listening is to know that Auden’s tired complaint that “poetry changes nothing” is the delusion. People are changed by such listening. The temptation is to say that in such moments we have entered a sacred space. Instead, I will assert that we have entered a poetic space. In such spaces we are most ourselves, most human, most whole, most holy. We need to make more of such spaces in our lives, in our schools and cities and small towns, in our country.
Whatever else happens in the months and years ahead, I hope the poets, students, teachers and other participants in the Festival will carry the memory of this experience with them, and know they can always have poetry in their lives. Whether or not they ever write a poem, poetry is there for them. When they remember this, I hope they, too, will be filled with gratitude, as I am, for the people who worked, on-stage and off, behind the scenes, volunteering all over Newark, to make this Festival possible.
Some images to revisit if you ever need reminding:
All Photos: Alex Towle Photography