Description of Festival Events

Conversations with One Festival Poet

These sessions are “conversations” between a Festival Poet and the audience. The Festival Poets draw on their own experiences and poems and on the poems of others. Some time is allotted for Q & A.

POETS ON POETRY

To paraphrase Gerald Stern, poets are readers who occasionally stop reading long enough to write something down. In these sessions, Festival Poets talk about their vital relationship to poetry as readers and artists. They may address their understanding of poetry, their experience of becoming a poet and how individual poems—both those written by themselves and others—have contributed to that process.

POETS FOR TEACHERS

Teachers have their own reasons for caring about poetry. These sessions are intended for educators at all classroom levels, but the general public would find them engaging as well. As in POETS ON POETRY, a Festival Poet will lead the conversation about poems and the art of poetry itself. Part of the aim is to renew teachers’ personal connections with poetry and thereby free up their confidence and flexibility when bringing poetry into their classrooms.

CONVERSATIONS ON CRAFT

What is the larger purpose of craft itself? What is the reward of mastering this hard-earned skill? Festival Poets consider and discuss questions related to the craft of making poems, from the general (such as work schedules and patterns of revision) to the specific (for instance, the uses of traditional forms, the subtleties of line breaks or the place of sound and phrasing in composition).

 

Conversations Involving Several Festival Poets

These discussions are “conversations” between two to five poets on a broad range of poetry topics, each speaking from personal experience and often using poems as examples. Time is usually set aside for questions from the audience.
 

A LIFE TOGETHER

It’s a challenge for an individual to make a life in any art, but when both partners in a couple are artists? Two couples, Nicky Beer & Brian Barker and Dorianne Laux & Joseph Millar, discuss the rewards and challenges of sharing a life together as working poets. 

ON THE LIFE OF THE POET

What goes on behind and around a life that produces poems? How does one find a way to make a life as a poet? Festival Poets share their personal observations and experiences, outlining their own challenges and rewards, delights and disappointments.

WHEN POLITICS IS PERSONAL

Some poets take the position that poetry must address the political and social issues of its time. Others believe political debate has no place in poetry. Most, even those who don’t write political poems themselves, agree that if a political matter is of personal importance to a particular poet, it is a valid topic for their poetry. Festival Poets consider how and when poetry might/might not be called upon to bear witness.

GOING PUBLIC WITH PRIVATE FEELINGS

How much of one’s personal life can be made available in a work of art? Form and structure—art itself—can make it possible to approach certain feelings and to survive going public with them. This session touches on the difficulty and the importance of articulating private feelings, of trying to say personal truth, as Festival Poets use their own and others’ poems to illustrate the issues.

AMERICAN POETRIES

Adrienne Rich wrote 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. Festival Poets consider what we might gain from this diversity and by listening more closely to each other.

CROSSING BOUNDARIES

Many poems and poets cross linguistic, geographic and cultural boundaries. But personal or government imposed censorship, family, religious or cultural taboos, the dictates of one fashionable aesthetic school or another, have all created boundaries that had to be crossed for some of our most memorable, influential and powerful poems to be written. Some poems come out of the need to break down boundaries. Festival poets discuss the place of boundaries and of the need to cross them in their life and work.

FINDING YOUR POETRY

Talking to students at the 2004 Dodge Poetry Festival, U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine said it was important for everyone “to find their poetry.” For him, poetry was what made him feel most fully himself, and he told the students they all needed to find something that made them feel they were making full use of themselves, whatever that was. It could be landscaping, cooking, or anything. Festival Poets will talk about how they found their poetry, and the importance of a life that involves rewarding work.

IN THE PATH OF THE STORM

Few natural disasters have captured the attention and fired the emotion of so many for so long as Hurricane Katrina has. The original storm was followed by a storm of outrage by what many saw as a catastrophic failure to help those in distress. Two poets as different in style and temperament as Natasha Trethewey and Patricia Smith have written book length treatments of the storm. Join them in a reading and conversation.

LOST AND FOUND IN TRANSLATION

Robert Frost famously defined poetry as “what is lost in translation.” Translator and poet Peter Cole turned this edict on its ear by claiming “poetry is what is found in translation.” Festival Poets Raúl Zurita and Salgado Maranhão and their translators Daniel Borzutzky and Alexis Levitin lead a lively conversation on what is lost and found in the challenging process of translating poetry.

THE RICHES OF DAILY LIFE

Much traditional and contemporary poetry in many parts of the world finds grounding in the actualities of the ordinary. In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke responds to the young poet’s concern that he has not lived a rich enough life to have any material for poems: “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it. Blame yourself. Tell yourself you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.” This conversation explores how what we encounter in our daily lives can be a powerful source or springboard for poetry.

WHO IS IT CAN TELL ME WHO I AM: POETRY AND IDENTITY

Having lost all the trappings that secured his identity, King Lear asks, half mad with desperation, “Who is it can tell me who I am?” Poetry, like all the arts, invites us to ask who we are. How we explore, discover, express, define and challenge who we are through poetry will be the focus of this conversation.

WHERE WE’RE FROM: A SENSE OF PLACE

Some poets’ work bears the indelible stamp of where they came from: that can be a geographic place, a type of environment, a particular family, a socio-economic position, a race, a sex, a sexual orientation, or a sense of entitlement or isolation. Others discovered a place later in life that inspired them, and many have been challenged by society’s admonitions that they “know their place.” This conversation will look into the many ways poetry explores our sense of place.

POETRY AND PRIDE

From Sappho to Whitman to Ginsberg to Rich, poetry as we know it would not exist without the contributions of the gay community. No doubt members of the gay community, like those of many other minorities, have found and forged some of their sense of community through the shared experiences and feelings communicated through poetry. How personal pride is discovered and fostered through poetry and the poetry community will be part of this conversation.

FOR LACK OF WHAT IS FOUND THERE: POETRY AND SURVIVAL

The cliché of the self-destructive poet is known to us all because it makes for good drama. But physicians, police officers, dentists, and members of our military have well above average suicide rates, and alcoholism and substance abuse are found in every profession from lawyers to athletes. Festival poets discuss the possibility that poetry brings something into our lives that helps us survive, that might actually save us from (to slightly paraphrase William Carlos Williams) “[dying] miserably every day/for lack/of what is found [in poetry].”

ON THE 45TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE NEWARK UPRISING

The murders of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., the personal experience of excessive force during the Newark uprising, and the civil rights movement itself all played crucial roles in transforming Amiri Baraka’s sense of the purpose of his art.  This founding figure of the Black Arts Movement joins historian and long-time Newark resident Dr. Clement Alexander Price in a candid conversation about the social and political events that shaped a movement and his own life and art.

MIRROR BLOSSOM URN COLLAGE

Is poetry’s purpose “to hold the mirror up to nature” or “to teach and delight?” Should a poem be an organic form that grows naturally out of the poet’s attempts at self-expression or a “well-wrought urn” we admire as much for its construction as for its content? Is it a clearly told story or a collage of images linked by dream logic? This conversation will explore how our assumptions about poetry and form influence our sense of what a poem is or what is possible in poetry.

A MUSIC OF PAUSE

There are poems that move through time as much by how they shape their silences as by how they shape the sounds of words. Such poems invite us to linger over specific images or ideas, and seem to arrest our attention briefly before moving us on. This shaping of perception is quite different from the experience of poems with rhythms that seem to propel us forward. This discussion will involve as much listening as speaking.

POETRY AND PRESENCE

There is a quality of mindfulness, of staying present in the present, that poetry can foster in us, can sometimes require of us. Even a four hundred year old poem requires this kind of presence from us. This may have been what Mark Strand had in mind when he wrote that we must “slow down for poetry.” Festival Poets explore how this slowing down, this quality of presence and attentiveness, is essential to poetry, and also seems deeply connected to how we remain alive in the world with open eyes, ears, heart and mind.

TELL ALL THE TRUTH BUT TELL IT SLANT

In one poem, Emily Dickinson advises “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” What is the purpose of approaching truth obliquely? Is there a truth greater than literal accuracy? Can we ever know how much of an apparently autobiographical poem is literally true? How can we trust the testimony of its author, regardless of what they assert about the authentic or fictional nature of a piece? Why should such questions matter to readers or poets?

A VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS

Many poems have been written for those who cannot speak for themselves. Some have been silenced by neglect, pushed so far to the fringes of society the larger culture ignores them; some are silenced by being refused literacy and education; some are silenced by racism or sexism masked as aesthetics; some are silenced by imprisonment or death, the elimination of witnesses. Festival Poets lead a discussion on how poems might speak for those who have been silenced.

WHERE POETRY MATTERS

“Can poetry matter?” would not be asked by anyone who has ever attended, performed in, produced or organized any of the open mikes, poetry jams or slams that have sprung up in community centers, church basements, libraries, bookstores and coffee shops all across the country. At these events it is immediately, powerfully obvious how crucial this avenue for self-expression and self-discovery is for many of our young people. This conversation will explore how and where poetry matters for individuals and societies.

FROM HOMER TO HIP-HOP: POETRY AND THE ORAL TRADITION

The oral tradition is the original source of poetry, far older than any distinctions we now make between poet and storyteller, shaman and actor. Homer, like the bard of Beowulf, likely recited his poems to a simple musical accompaniment, perhaps no more than a drumbeat. In recent decades we’ve seen an explosion of poetry slams, jams, readings and open mikes in urban, suburban and rural communities. Festival Poets explore what contemporary poets and spoken-word artists might learn by approaching each other as compatriots in a much older tradition.

POETRY AND WORKING LIFE

It is almost always assumed that a poet must perform some other work to earn a living and sustain a life in this art. The late Stanley Kunitz, a lifelong gardener, advised younger poets to find some work that took them completely out of their heads, work that required physical engagement with the world. Many poets have created some of their most powerful poems from work experiences, and from speaking for the silent and unheard who do some of our dirtiest and most thankless jobs. What does it mean that we even draw a distinction between “work” and the poet’s work?

 

Readings and Performances

 

THURSDAY EVENING POETRY SAMPLER

Twenty–two Festival Poets will read during this extraordinary session. The Poetry Sampler is always one of the highlights of the four-day schedule, and one of the most popular Festival events. Each poet will read for five to six minutes.

READING AND CONVERSATION

It’s been said that reading poetry is entering into a conversation held across centuries, cultures and continents. In these sessions, three Festival Poets each give a brief reading followed by an open ended conversation.

MAIN-STAGE READINGS IN PRUDENTIAL HALL

The main-stage readings which bring the Festival community together under one roof at the close of each day have been a central feature of every Dodge Poetry Festival. This year they are taking place in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s beautiful and acoustically splendid Prudential Hall.

FESTIVAL POET READINGS

During the day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be a series of readings from multiple stages throughout the Festival site. Typically, these are one-hour readings shared by several poets, who each read for ten to fifteen minutes.

BLOOD DAZZLER AT THE OCTOROON BALLS

Poet Patricia Smith reads selections from Blood Dazzler, her book-length sequence of poems on Hurricane Katrina, to the accompaniment of the New Jersey Symphony’s String Quartet playing passages from Winton Marsalis’ At the Octoroon Balls, a musical history of New Orleans.

IN PRAISE: POETRY AND MUSIC

Poets Jane Hirshfield and Kurtis Lamkin are joined by the Newark Boys Chorus in this spoken and sung celebration of poems and songs of praise.

SACRED CIRCLES CAFÉ

For many years the Sacred Circles Café has been an essential part of NJPAC’s Alternate Routes programming. Featuring young and emerging artists who are on the verge of or have made their mark with the next generation of art audiences, Sacred Circles Café celebrates poetry, hip-hop and spoken word as the living embodiments of the ancient sacred song, chant and storytelling circles from which all poetry and theater emerged.

SHUFFLE, CRAMPROLL, PARADIDDLE AND STOMP

These are only a few of the names of dance steps in rhythmic tap, a form of the dance that treats the dancer’s feet as a percussion instrument. Newark resident and world-class tap dancer Maurice Chesnut accompanies Festival Poets in a duet of poetic and tap rhythms.

GIVING VOICE TO ADRIENNE RICH

In the this celebration of her work, friends, fellow poets and audience members will read from the work of Adrienne Rich, one our most influential contemporary poets and a long-time Dodge Festival favorite

GIVING VOICE TO LUCILLE CLIFTON

In this special tribute, family members, friends and fellow poets will read from the just published Complete Poems of Lucille Clifton. The author of twelve collections of poems, Clifton appeared at eleven Dodge Poetry Festivals and became, for many, the embodiment of the spirit of the Festival itself.

STORYTELLING

With song and drama, one of poetry’s oldest relatives, storytelling will be offered during the Festival weekend.

MUSIC

Musical performances have always been a part of the Festival. 

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s String Quartet will be performing with poet Patricia Smith and at various times in the main stage schedule. 

Current students and alumni of NJPAC's Wachovia Jazz For Teens program will also be appearing at the Festival.