Ceiling of the First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church,
one of the many historic Newark buildings where the festival was held
I’m back from The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey. What an amazing few days. The festival happens every two years and this is my fourth time attending. Here are some highlights:
I heard many poets: Amiri Baraka, Ras Baraka, Evan Boland, Henri Cole, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Juan Felipe Herrera, Jane Hirshfield, Fanny Howe, Kurtis Lamkin, Dorianne Laux, Philip Levine, Ada Limon, Thomas Lux, Rachel McKibbens, Gregory Orr, Patricia Smith, Arthur Sze, Larissa Szporluk, Natasha Trethewey, C.K. Williams and Raul Zurita with Daniel Borzutzky. And if you can believe it, there were many poets I missed. (Complete list here.)
It is always exciting to hear the conversations between poets and the individual readings. On a panel about truth in poetry, Ada Limon said about her poetry, “None of it happened, but it is all true.” She described the importance of allowing your poem to be “truer than your own truth.” She reminded us that “personal details are not more important than the power of the poem.”
On a panel about being present in poetry, Jane Hirshfield compared the lyric poem to a painting. She said that in a painting, everything happens at once and there’s no particular sense of time. She added that everything, your presence of the world, is altered by an invitation into the present of the poem or painting. This is the possibility of a lyric poem (as opposed to a narrative poem, short story, essay, novel, etc., which depends more on the passage of time.)
Music and its relationship to poetry held an importance place in this festival. In a discussion about craft, C.K. Williams said, “Until you have the music for the poem, you don’t have a poem. You just have information.” It was particularly thrilling to hear Patricia Smith read Blood Dazzler (read excerpts from this collection about Hurricane Katrina here) with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra String Quartet.
I was also blown away by the panel “Shuffle, Cramproll, Paradiddle and Stomp” with performances by Ras Baraka, Juan Felipe Herrera, Kurtis Lamkin and Rachel McKibbens – all with tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. I’ve never seen such improvisations and energy on one stage. For a tap-less version, you can watch Ras Baraka, Amiri Barak's son, read American Poem and watch Kurtis Lamkin read and play jump mama.
Newark mayor Cory Booker stopped by on Sunday. Among other beautiful statements about poetry, art and Newark, he said, “We are not biology and science alone (…) we are art.”
Of course, it was also lovely to catch up with poets and friends from Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and Fairleigh Dickinson University. And thanks to my mom for coming along for one full day of poetry.
Looking forward to returning in 2014!