May 21, 2008

The 2008 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

At the Festival: left to right, Coleman Barks, Taha Muhammad Ali, Linda Pastan,
Mark Doty, and Lucille Clifton

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival returns to Waterloo Village in Stanhope, New Jersey from September 25 through Sunday, September 28, 2008. This is the 12th biennial festival. I have attended ten festivals (missed that first one!) and it has always been the poetry highlight of that year.
Festival favorite, Billy Collins, wrote in "Wordstock:Celebrating the Dodge Poetry Festival" about the event. Here's the opening paragraph:

"To understand the nature of this cultural beast, this mother of all poetry gatherings (”Wordstock” is another name for it) you need to set aside any inherited notions of what poetry readings are all about. Forget the image of a few devotees huddled in a library meeting room or a church basement, and tear up the picture of a coffeehouse where one of the undernourished is inflicting his verse on a few unsmiling listeners. Instead, you need to visualize a kind of Bedouin camp of tents where, for four days, thousands of people navigate their way through a mad-dash schedule of events. The Dodge Poetry Festival is the largest poetry event in North America and it is the most energetic, festive, and high-spirited celebration of poetry I have ever seen."

There is a sizable list of poets, storytellers & musicians who will be at the 2008 Festival including: Chris Abani, Coleman Barks, Taha Muhammad Ali, Coral Bracho, Billy Collins, Lucille Clifton, Mark Doty, Martín Espada, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Edward Hirsch, Jane Hirshfield, Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Linda Pastan, Charles Simic, C.D. Wright, and Franz Wright.

The historic Waterloo Village will be re-opened especially for the event. (The village had been taken over by the State of NJ and is undergoing improvements.) They expect audiences of up to 20,000 for the four days of poetry. It's a great setting beside the Musconetcong River with historic buildings and tents among the trees being used for most of the readings and panels, and a huge main stage tent for larger readings and music events.

What originally got me into the festival was participating in some of the the great other programs that the Dodge Foundation does in supporting teachers and students to use poetry.

On Teacher Day (Friday, September 26) there will be about 2000 teachers there. There were 1500 teachers from 30 states and all grade levels on hand at the 2006 Teacher Day. On High School Student Day (Thursday) it's a trip watching busloads of kids come in and wander from reading to reading. Teachers who Pre-Register before September 12 are admitted at no charge on Teacher Day and/or High School Student Day.

It's not just readings. There are Poets on Poetry sessions with discussions about their own sense of poetry, partly through reading and discussing poems by others that have been important to them, and partly through reading and discussing their own poems.

Poetry Conversations bring together two to four poets to discuss topics like “On the Life of the Poet,” “Going Public with Private Feelings,” “Poetry and Jazz,” and “The Mysterious Life within Translation.”

Poets for Teachers sessions, reserved for teachers, provide opportunities to discuss with a Festival Poet ways to bring poetry to life inside and outside the classroom.

In the big tent, about 20 Festival Poets will each read two or three poems in the very popular (get a seat early!) for the Poetry Samplers.

Students really get into the Giving Voice readings throughout the day. Get up and remember by reading poets no longer with us.

Of course, there are opportunities for you to read in the Open Readings too. ("Yes, I read my poetry at the Dodge Festival!")

There are also evening programs on the main stage that generally include music and poetry.

Saturday and Sunday are the big days for the general public, but you can get tickets for the day or all 4 days.

If you're coming to the festival and staying over, there are of hotel, B&B and camping accomodation options. Though I had been a hardcore tent camper at the festival for many years, one very rainy 4 days made me upgrade to cabin camping at Panther Lake where you will find myself, my friend Steve and an assortment of festival types in the evening around the fire.

May 16, 2008

What We See in Our Statistical Mirror Today

I am happy to report that Poets Online cracked the top 100 Literature sites on Blog Flux ( a site that collects usage stats on blogs by categories). Of course, our numbers aren't anything that the big blogs have to worry about, but "literature" is a category that doesn't get as much blog attention as others.

I'm actually more excited to see the ever changing world locations that appear in the right sidebar here in our "Live Traffic Feed" which monitors where visitors to the blog come from on the World Wide Web and in the real world. It's great that we have such a diverse audience for poetry here.

May 11, 2008

Gary Snyder Wins Poetry Prize

Gary Snyder has won the 2008 Ruth Lilly Prize for his body of work.

The Lilly Prize, with a stipend of $100,000, is one of the most lucrative prizes in American letters. Snyder is considered a Northwest poet because of his nature-centered verse, even though he has long lived in Northern California.

The 77-year-old poet, a follower of Zen Buddhism, lived on a farm in what was then the rural area of Lake City, Washington until the age of 13. Spending the summer of 1952 as a fire lookout in the North Cascades also had a huge impact on Snyder's writing.

Gary Snyder was born in San Francisco in 1930. He has published sixteen books of poetry and prose, including The Gary Snyder Reader (1952-1998) (Counterpoint Press, 1999); Mountains and Rivers Without End (1997); No Nature: New and Selected Poems (1993), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; The Practice of the Wild (1990); Left Out in the Rain, New Poems 1947-1985; Axe Handles (1983), for which he received an American Book Award; Turtle Island (1974), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Hay for the Horses

He had driven half the night
From far down San Joaquin
Through Mariposa, up the
Dangerous Mountain roads,
And pulled in at eight a.m.
With his big truckload of hay
behind the barn.
With winch and ropes and hooks
We stacked the bales up clean
To splintery redwood rafters
High in the dark, flecks of alfalfa
Whirling through shingle-cracks of light,
Itch of haydust in the
sweaty shirt and shoes.
At lunchtime under Black oak
Out in the hot corral,
---The old mare nosing lunchpails,
Grasshoppers crackling in the weeds---
"I'm sixty-eight" he said,
"I first bucked hay when I was seventeen.
I thought, that day I started,
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that's just what
I've gone and done."

From Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems by Gary Snyder, published by North Point Press.

more on Snyder

May 8, 2008

Prose Poems: I Sing the Mundane Erotic

"Which one of us, in his moments of ambition, has not dreamed of a miracle of poetic prose, musical without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience?"
~ Charles Baudelaire

This month is not the first time we have tried the prose poem form for a prompt. An earlier prompt (back ten years ago already) also featured poems by Nin Andrews.

The prose poem, as defined in The Glossary of Poetic Terms, is a genre in the poetic spectrum between free verse and prose. It is distinguished by the poetic characteristics of rhythmic, aural, and syntactic repetition, compression of thought, sustained intensity, and patterned structure, but is set on the page in a continuous sequence of sentences as in prose, without line breaks.

I had problems accepting prose poems as poems for a long time. It was bad enough that it seemed like so many "poems" wee just prose with line breaks already that prose poems seemed to me to be a further erosion.

I think that the poem that might have changed me is "A Story About the Body" by Robert Hass which I heard him read when it was new.

The young composer, working that summer at an artist's colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused or considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, "I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you I have had a double mastectomy," and when he didn't understand, "I've lost both my breasts." the radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity--like music--withered, very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, "I'm sorry. I don't think I could." He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl - she must have swept them from the corners of her studio--was full of dead bees.

I couldn't have told you then why that was a poem and not just prose, but I knew when he read it that it was a poem. I hadn't seen it on paper, and when I finally did find a copy it did not surprise me that it was in the form of a prose poem.

The second prose poem that changed my mind about the form was "The Colonel" by Carolyn Forché. It's a poem that is often used to talk about the form and often analyzed.

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistolon the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

Most poets who work in this form agree that a prose poem should exhibit the characteristics of poetry more strongly than prose. These poems may be thematically structured like a poem, have musicality (though not rhyme) and probably more extensively use imagery, metaphor and the tools in the poet's box. The lines in these poems break where the margin breaks. Stanzas, if they occur at all, resemble paragraphs.

Even Wikipedia tries to define the form and can give you some history of its start in 19th century France.

Prose poems have their own journals - like CUE and Sentence.

On the main site, I used a poem by Kim Addonizio who has experimented in prose/poetry mixes in several books. You can read some of her erotic prose poem chapters on

Nin Andrews frequently writes in the prose poem form and "Aspirin" and "Sweet Tarts" are good examples.

Though this month's prompt is the prose poem form, we don't want you just running to your notebooks for a short story that you never finished and sending it off as a poem. So, I am lifting the prompt directly from Kim's book (with Dorianne Laux), The Poet's Companion, which contains some great writing exercises and examples.

"Brainstorm a list of some mundane activities not usually thought of a erotic - washing the dishes or car, mowing the lawn, going to the dentist. Now make a list of nouns associated with that activity. Then make a list of verbs and adjectives that you associate with sex. Stir everything together, and make the mundane activities sound positively orgasmic."

The Prose Poem: An International Journal states in its submission guidelines:

"Although we don't want to say that we can define "prose poetry," we do expect our contributors to at least know the difference between verse and prose poetry, so that they don't waste their time and postage. "

You should read some more prose poems before starting your own. The best way to define them is by example.


May 1, 2008

Celebrating NJ's Literary Journals - June 1 - Free Festival

Diane Lockward has been organizing a poetry festival that is a "Celebration of New Jersey's Literary Journals (and Some Neighbors)" since 2004. (Here's a funny NY Times take on that first one.)

I guess folks outside NJ don't realize that there's a LOT of poetry happening here. After all, the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (the Big Kahuna of poetry festivals) is here, and the Dodge supports many other poetry efforts in the state.

This day of poetry spotlights New Jersey publications devoted to poetry and brings editors out to meet the people who are submitting poems. There are also very fast paced readings going on all afternoon.

Check out Diane's own poetry site for the full list of poets, journals and editors.

Here's a look at last year's event -

Sunday, June 1, 2008
1:00 PM - 5:00 PM

at the West Caldwell Public Library
30 Clinton Rd.
West Caldwell, New Jersey

call for info: 973-226-5441

click for directions