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.

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