Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Here Come Da Dodge: Pre-Festival Jitters

    This weekend is New Jersey's biannual Dodge Poetry Festival, now transplanted from the bucolic setting of Waterloo Village in Stanhope to the rising city of Newark, and headquartered in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. An article in yesterday's New York Times seems to do its best to justify the move by quoting such folks as NJPAC President Lawrence Goldman, who said that, "In the 21st century, poetry belongs in the complexity, density and energy of an urban setting." Such a notion seem to me to pigeonhole poetry as much as those who may feel that the only place it really belongs is in an antique village.
    The move was prompted primarily by two factors: a precipitous drop in the assets of the Dodge Foundation, and the physical deterioration of Waterloo Village itself, which in recent years has only been opened for this event. Trust me, toileting at Waterloo was an antique and risky experience in and of itself. Suggesting that the very nature of poetry itself has evolved into an urban art (therefore more marketable too, to those who's only interest lies in the cash-ola potential) puts limits on a type of literature which, on the contrary, has come to speak for broader and broader cross sections of society.
    Certainly the city of Newark's open-armed welcome to the Dodge Festival is a hopeful sign. My companion for the weekend, upon ordering tickets, received a welcome packet that includes a map and visitors guide, highlighting restaurants in the area of the festivities. I have never been to Newark but am anxious to conquer it, vehicularly speaking. It is accessible by public transportation (one supposed complaint about past festivals, but Stanhope was an easy 2 hour drive for me), but due to scheduling conflicts, we won't be arriving until Friday night.
    The schedule is missing some of the mainstays of past festivals as well, including Sunday morning Rumi readings with Coleman Barks, and the mere presence of the adorable Ted Kooser. Brian Turner, an Iraq War veteran, will be reading in Woodstock the Saturday of the festival. The roster is pared down, but other regulars will be there. Galway Kinnell will be reading and speaking about his translations of Rilke's Duino Elegies. Sharon Olds and Billy Collins will be there too. Sunday will feature a tribute to Lucille Clifton, who passed away this spring and has been an active presence at past Dodges.
    Collins' remark about the upcoming Dodge, "Poetry itself is in a postpastoral condition...," must be read with the kind of tongue-in-cheek reasoning that the man and his poems are known for. There is a place for pastures and parkways in poetry. Let's hope the move to Newark for the Dodge doesn't place undo emphasis on replacing one with the other. Let's hope Coleman Barks is back for the next edition.

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