Description of Festival Events
Readings and spoken-word performances have always been at the heart of the Dodge Poetry Festival and are held at a variety of venues throughout the site.
One of Dodge’s most popular events, this group reading introduces the audience to a wide range of poets who’ll be participating in the Festival. Twenty-five Festival Poets will read in the Opening Celebration. Each poet will read for four minutes.
POEMS AND CONVERSATION: READINGS AND Q & A
These High School Student Day events offer short, seven-minute readings by a panel of four Festival Poets, followed by an open-ended conversation driven by questions from the audience.
FESTIVAL POET READINGS
On multiple stages throughout the Festival site, these daytime events treat festival-goers to more sustained readings by Festival Poets. Each session is shared by four poets. Each poet will read for fifteen minutes.
FESTIVAL POET READINGS IN PRUDENTIAL HALL
These late-afternoon and evening readings on the main stage have been a central feature of every Dodge Poetry Festival since 1986. For the sixth time, they will take place in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s beautiful and acoustically splendid Prudential Hall. Each Festival Poet reads for thirty minutes.
Dodge Poetry Presents: CantoMundo, Cave Canem, In-Na-Po, Kundiman, Lambda Literary, Mizna, and Zoeglossia
Dodge Poetry presents readings curated by each of these essential national poetry organizations.
Anyone can participate in the afternoon open readings in the New Jersey Historical Society building. Advance sign-up is not required.
Poetry and Music Performances
Musical performances and poetry and music collaborations have been a highlight of every Dodge Festival. The New Jersey Symphony, Danny Caron, Tomás Doncker and The True Groove All-Stars, Amir ElSaffar and Hamid Al-Saadi, and current students and alumni of NJPAC’s Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens program will be performing at various events throughout the Festival.
ENDANGERED: A MULTIMEDIA PERFORMANCE OF MUSIC, POETRY AND FILM
Inspired by the artwork of Floyd D. Tunson, “Endangered,” a song cycle by Tomàs Doncker and Yusef Komunyakaa, is performed with filmmaker William Murray’s projections. Festival Poets will share poems that address the many ways we, our bodies, our identities, our society and our ecosystems are endangered, and how art itself is a necessary act for survival.
A HUNDRED WAYS TO KNEEL AND KISS THE GROUND
An invitation to share gratitude and praise, however we might conceive of them, through poetry and song. Festival Poets are joined by composer, musician and vocalist Amir ElSaffar and singer Hamil Al-Saadi, who perform selections from the Iraqi Maqam, which represents some of the most important Sufi and secular poems from the Arab world.
POETRY AND MUSIC: XIAN ZHANG CONDUCTS BRAHMS
Xian Zhang conducts the New Jersey Symphony through a program featuring pianist Michelle Cann and including Dorothy Chang’s Northern Star, Strauss’ Burleske for Piano and Orchestra and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4. Brief poetry readings will be presented before and between the musical pieces. Thursday’s performance features Festival Poets Stephen Kuusisto, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Patrick Rosal and Patricia Smith. Sunday’s performance features Sharon Olds, Willie Perdomo, Patrick Rosal and Patricia Smith.
POETRY AND SONG
Nearly every anthology of English poetry begins with the English ballads, ancient songs we read as poetry. Across millennia, bards, griots and rappers have blended recitation and singing. In this session, poets, songwriters and musicians explore questions such as: What might we discover if we approach poetry and song as points on a spectrum and not distinct art forms? How do they influence and inform each other? What possibilities arise if we question the boundaries between them?
Never lectures or seminars, these are true conversations between one to four Festival Poets and the audience. Speaking from personal experience and using poems (their own and others’) as springboards, poets discuss a broad range of topics. Time is allowed for questions from the audience.
BETWEEN STARSHINE AND CLAY: POETRY AND SPIRITUALITY
In her poem, “won’t you celebrate with me,” lucille clifton names where we live through our struggles as “this bridge between/starshine and clay.” Poets explore a variety of poems and questions that explore: How might poetry connect us to both the earthly and spiritual? Answer our yearnings toward presence and transcendence? Why are so many sacred texts from all traditions written in verse?
Many poems and poets cross linguistic, geographic and cultural boundaries. But for some of our most memorable, influential and powerful poems to be written, boundaries created by personal or government-imposed censorship, family, religious or cultural taboos, or the dictates of one fashionable aesthetic school or another had to be crossed. Some poems come out of the need to break down boundaries. Poets will discuss how they confronted some aspect of this issue and the poets and poems that helped them.
ECO-POETRY AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE (POETS FORUM)
Bell Hooks said, “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is–– it’s to imagine what is possible.” We know our earth is in peril, but how do we truly open ourselves to this reality? And then how do we write about it? Academy Chancellors will suggest possible approaches to these crucial concerns, drawing from both local and global perspectives.
FROM HOMER TO HIP-HOP: POETRY AND THE ORAL TRADITION
Poetry’s oral tradition predates written language by tens of thousands of years. Homer, like our contemporary hip-hop artists, recited his poems to a musical accompaniment, perhaps no more than a drumbeat. In recent decades, we’ve seen an explosion of readings and open mikes in urban, suburban and rural communities. Audio and video recordings of poems draw tens of thousands of listeners. In these sessions, poets from all schools, genres and styles are invited to read poems aloud and explore poetry as an oral/aural art.
GOING PUBLIC WITH PRIVATE FEELINGS
Festival Poets who answer the question “Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?” on our Ask a Poet blog almost always answer “Yes!” Many reply that fear is often a good indicator that something needs to be written and that it can lead them toward some of their most powerful poems. But how much of one’s personal life can be made available in a work of art? Festival Poets use their own and others’ poems to discuss the difficulty and the importance of risking vulnerability when trying to uncover personal truths.
I AM NOT FREE WHILE ANY WOMAN IS UNFREE
Poet Audre Lorde’s statement, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own,” remains relevant forty years later. What does it look like when women writers are in community with each other, writing for and with each other? How does the emergence of women’s voices in contemporary poetry continue to transform the poems that they and others write, the canon, the poetry community and other communities?
MAKING A LIFE IN POETRY
What’s the difference between “wanting to be a poet” and making a life in poetry? The real challenges may be about a lot more than writing. How does the culture or subculture we live in influence our notions of what this means, how it is or isn’t possible, or the validity of such a choice? What goes on behind and around a life that produces poems? Festival Poets share their personal observations and experiences, challenges and rewards, delights and disappointments.
MASKS AND MASCULINITY
Clichéd notions about the “poetic” personality and the “masculine” one may seem completely at odds, yet many poems have been written that celebrate the rituals, rites of passage and behaviors that society overtly or tacitly accepts as validating masculinity. Some of these poems, although once part of the “official” canon, are now viewed as misogynistic or celebrating self-defeating, even self-destructive, behaviors. How does poetry help us navigate societal demands regarding masculinity? What masks does it offer to hide behind? What opportunities to peer behind them?
MEANWHILE THE WORLD GOES ON: POETRY AND PERSEVERANCE
In her widely admired poem, “Wild Geese,” poet Mary Oliver asserted that, despite what might cause us despair, the world goes on and, in looking closely at it, we can discover a way to go on, too. Thirty months into the pandemic, poets discuss how poets and poetry help us go on.
NOT A LUXURY, BUT A NECESSITY: POETRY AND THE PANDEMIC
Within weeks of the COVID shutdown, poets, musicians, actors and other artists began posting poems and performances all over the internet. There was an unprecedented upsurge in engagement with poetry readings online, confirming once again that not only is poetry not a luxury in a time of crisis, but, as Audre Lorde asserted, a necessity. Poets explore the challenges and rewards of reading and writing poetry through the pandemic.
Festival Poets consider and discuss questions related to the craft of making poems. Depending on the poet, these broad-reaching conversations can range from the general (What is the larger purpose of craft? What are the rewards of trying to master it?) to the specific (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?).
OUR HOUSE: ECO-POETRY AND THE EARTH
When Joy Harjo notes, “My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world,” she is writing out of the 10,000-year-old traditions of the first human settlers of this continent. It is a perspective echoed in the word ecology itself, which has its roots in the Greek word for home, and in influential works like John Muir’s The Mountains of California and Gary Snyder’s Earth House Hold, which brought to wider attention that we are not only stewards of but also participants in the natural world. This session invites poets and audience into a conversation on how poetry and eco-awareness interconnect.
POETRY AND CRAFT: METAPHOR (POETS FORUM)
The word metaphor comes from the Greek, meaning “to transfer,” and metaphor does just that. Figurative language is one of the poet’s primary tools for investigating and communicating experience. Academy Chancellors will share poems that illustrate metaphoric language and consider strategies for creating more exciting, illuminating, and moving metaphors.
POETRY AND MEMOIR
How much do autobiography and lyric poetry have in common? Where, why and how do they diverge? What is the impulse that leads us to read or write one or the other? Poets who write poetry and memoir talk about the connections and differences between trying to tell one’s story in poetry and/or prose.
POETRY AND PRIDE
Poetry as we know it would not exist without the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community, from Sappho to Whitman to Ginsberg to Rich. Festival Poets will discuss how their sense of identity, personal pride and kinship may have been forged through the shared experiences, trauma, discoveries and emotions communicated in poetry.
POETRY AND STORYTELLING (POETS FORUM)
To the ancients, the name poet was given to any artist we now call a poet, storyteller or playwright. This likely stems from their common source, as humans first attempted to tell their stories and poetry emerged along with ritual and theater. All these arts require no material other than one human voice for their creation, and no more than one listener to bridge the gap between strangers. Academy Chancellors and Festival Poets discuss the connections and differences between trying to tell one’s story in poetry and/or prose.
POETS FOR TEACHERS
Teachers have their own reasons for caring about poetry and face unique challenges keeping the art a sustained part of their own and their students’ lives. These sessions are intended for educators at all classroom levels, but the general public would certainly find them engaging. As in the Poets on Poetry events, Festival Poets lead a conversation about poems and the art of poetry itself.
POETRY LIKE BREAD: POETRY AND POLITICS
Like the anthology of the same name, this conversation gets its title from the Roque Dalton lines, “I believe the world is beautiful/and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” But to even assert that bread, let alone poetry, is for everyone can be seen as a political statement, especially in a time of heated debate over “entitlements.” What are our responsibilities to each other in a civil society? How can poetry, like bread, offer life and sustenance to all in difficult times?
POETRY’S MANY ROOMS
During one Dodge Poetry Festival conversation, the late lucille clifton said poetry is a house with many rooms, and that, although we might not want to spend a lot of time in some of them, it has a room for everyone under its roof. Poets discuss how they found their room under poetry’s large roof, and how others might find theirs.
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.
Pádraig Ó Tuama, host of the Poetry Unbound podcast from On Being Studios, engages in intimate and far-reaching conversations with individual Festival Poets.
SPELLS AND INVOCATIONS/POETRY’S POWER TO BLESS, CURSE, CONJURE AND INSPIRE
It’s no coincidence that poetry emerged in unison with myth and ritual, or that so many prayers, spells and sacred texts are poems. From our very beginnings, we’ve intuited that there is a power summoned in rhythmic utterance beyond what can be reached in mere speech. Festival Poets explore poetry’s power to bless, curse, conjure and inspire.
TELL ALL THE TRUTH BUT TELL IT SLANT
In her classic 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 factual? How can we trust the testimony of its author, regardless of what the poet asserts about the authentic or fictional nature of a piece? Why should such questions matter to readers or poets?
WHO IS IT CAN TELL ME WHO I AM? POETRY AND IDENTITY
Poetry, like all the arts, invites us to ask who we are. There are forces and people who try to decide for us who we should be and who we can’t be. How we explore, discover, express, define and challenge who we are through poetry will be the focus of this conversation.
WHOSE BODY? POETRY AND THE BODY
We may think of our bodies as our own, and yet the boundaries that separate the self from the environment, society and the other are permeable and assailable. In light of the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, disability-rights, LGBTQ+-rights and body-image movements, the question “Whose Body?” will act as an entryway to conversations about a multitude of issues.