The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from friends of HoCoPoLitSo. Today Ryna May, Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College, writes of her experience at the recent Dodge Poetry Festival.…
Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
– Roque Dalton
The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival once again transformed downtown Newark, New Jersey, into a “poetry village” for a few days in October. The bi-annual festival has been going strong since 1986, though longtime supporters have noticed a different energy since the festival left its traditional home in Waterloo Village.
But one thing has not changed: This remains the Super Bowl of Poetry. There is no other event like this festival, where the old meets the new, where high school students cheer wildly for words, and where the teeming energy of a giant hall of people morphs into a single, quiet heartbeat. Where Natasha Trethewey, the newly minted poet laureate, shares a stage with Amiri Baraka. Where Philip Levine and Dorianne Laux teach us about the lyrical nobility of work. Where aspiring poets, old and young, hang onto every word as if it is bread, as if it is life-giving manna.
The festival is more than a poetry reading, more than an event. It is a pilgrimage to sit at the feet of poets like Taylor Mali, to hear him recite “Like Lily Like Wilson.” It is the chance to be completely surprised by a brand new poet like Emari DiGiorgio and come to your feet when she finishes “Lady Liberty.” It is the chance to be inspired by Jane Hirshfield, who tells us that poetry gives us a voice, gives us courage to face the challenges that life puts before us.
Okay, so poetry isn’t life itself, but it is a way to experience life, a way to see the world and describe it and make meaning out of it. You can only see this, can only feel this at the festival. It isn’t quite Brigadoon, but it has that quality of stepping out of one world and into another. And if you experience it, you will be changed. This event is for everyone, and everyone should experience the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at least once. If you go once, I promise you will want more.
— Ryna May
Associate professor of English,
Howard Community College