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DODGE POETRY FESTIVAL - OCTOBER 2000 FEATURE  

The Cortland Review

FEATURE

Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival
An abundance of riches in the hinterlands of New Jersey.  TCR's own Ginger Murchison and Julie Larios report.

David Lehman and Maria Claire Leng
Companion Poems: Odes that Rhyme from A - Z.

Joseph Stanton
The Space-Time Continuum and The Slow Eye of Stan The Man: Baseball, apple pie, and Stan "The Man" Musial.

John Kinsella
The Globe Hotel: The next chapter in his exclusive autobiographical series.

Jonathan Kessler
Book Review: Michael Rothenberg's "Punk Rockwell," a book that transgresses boundaries.

Geraldine R. Dodge
Poetry Festival, 2000

Dodge Poetry Festival Photo Album*

Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, 2000 

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Once in a great while, staffers around here get an assignment, usually articles nobody wants to do, such as "The Influence of Poetry since Walt Whitman on the Meaning and Frequency of Use of the Word Plenipotentiary." So when somebody mentioned that somebody ought to go to the Dodge Poetry Festival and write an article, Ginger and Julie got stuck in the door trying to get out. They're both okay, now. Julie's surgery was successful, and Ginger's cast comes off next week, so it seemed reprehensible of us to publish only one article. After all, we've got David's and Maria's companion poems, Kinsella and Kessler both start with "K," and "Stan The Man" didn't develop that "Slow Eye" by himself, so here we've got The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival Special Report by Julie and Ginger... in tandem.


Poetry Outside the Academy

by Ginger Murchison


Call it a poetry festival or call it "fooling with words," it's the largest gathering in the name of poetry in North America, and it has happened every even-numbered year since 1986, sponsored by the Geraldine R-for-Rockefeller Dodge Foundation.

Gwendolyn Brooks At the turn of the last century, Waterloo Village in Stanhope, New Jersey, was a quiet, residential hamlet on the Morris Canal. September 21-24, 2000, however, it played host to twenty-three Featured Poets, thirty-six Poets Among Us, three Storytellers, and six Musical Groups who lured more than 15,000 visitors into various tents, appropriately named the Weaving Barn Tent, the White Barn Tent, the Meeting House Tent, the Sawmill Tent, the Farmstead Tent, and the Braw Pond Tent, and several permanent buildings, the Gristmill, the Church, and the Carriage Barn, for example, for Discussions and Conversations, and into the Concert Tent (2000 at a time) for featured events. There were no rides, no costumed characters, no parades, and no fireworks. They came from ten miles down the road and across the country, and they came to hear poets read and talk about poetry.

Goran Sonnevi They endured plane delays, finally arriving to a dearth of hotel rooms, some traveling 25-30 miles away to find a bed; tenters doubled up to share tent sites. They shared any and every sweet thing with the seasonal yellow jackets; they shared cars, skewered food, funnel cakes, jackets, umbrellas, and poems. Friends who met again or for the first time exchanged books, e-mail addresses, and promises for the Dodge, 2002. A woman from Kentucky at the Dodge for the first time emerged from Coleman Barks's reading of Rumi to the music of the Paul Winter Consort, saying, at the edge of tears, "Now I know why I came."

Lucille CliftonStanley Kunitz, at a fragile yet remarkably imposing 95, shared his latest poems and some he'd written at 25 with a 2000-plus on-their-feet crowd applauding his genius and his laureateship. Gwendolyn Brooks shared her address with teenagers, who stood in line to get her signature on books, programs, hats, anything handy, really, calling after them, "Write to me. Send me a poem." Lucille Clifton shared her courageous honesty and, for the second festival in a row, affirmed the spirit of woman, which is easy for her; she embodies it. Billy Collins shared falling-down laughter with a packed tent every time he showed up, confirming his title as the "indoor, nature poet."  Thomas Lux shared insightful hilarity in the absurdities we trip over daily and forget to notice; Nellie Wong Nellie Wong shared her voice as a feminist human-rights activist; Yusef Komunyakaa, his war consciousness, Chinua Achebe, his devotion to the political freedom of the African people, and Mark Doty, in his second appearance at the Dodge, his awe (again!) at the intensity of so much excitement about poetry. He marveled that, "even in this mass of humanity," poets and poetry lovers still manage individual "sparks of connection."  And there was more, much more that I didn't even get to. Perspective, is important, however, and one man from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, roaming among the books for sale with an infant asleep on his shoulder said,  "Forget the written stuff. This," pointing to the child, "is Poetry."

Marie Howe Most of us slept too little, ate too much, found out that people we've known on-line and in print for years are real, and forever changed the way we will read and enjoy poetry. I lost my digital camera and three days' worth of memories on disk, but I still have the image of that high school girl, a wad of bills in her outstretched hand, chasing a man who had bought a drink and dropped his money (not a wallet, but a wad of bills), and I'm still grateful to the young couple in the red Jeep who drove me, in the near-dark and cold, to find a parking lot that had somehow relocated itself since morning. It was, as Marie Howe put it, "Wordstock." The Dodge is poetry that, on or off the page, like Jane Kenyon's fish, "astonishes the air."



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From Mackerels to Ancient Lamentations:
Discussing Poetry at the Dodge

by Julie Larios


As poets, we sometimes want to believe that poetry is easy. That it flows like a Great Fountain, unstoppable, out of Our Anguished Souls. Or that poetry floats down and rests on our shoulders like a little pixie sent by the Disney Corporation. If we stay completely still, she'll whisper the right words; then we'll write them down. Bingo, great poem. But the classical poet Horace reminded us during this year's Dodge Festival in Stanhope, New Jersey (no, Horace didn't attend—he channeled through the living poet Thomas Lux) that poems are made things which require real effort. They're messy in their making. A poem might start as a lump in the throat, Lux told the crowd this year, but it gets finished only by hard work. And what a relief the Dodge Festival is for a beginning poet, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people who know that poetry is difficult and who understand that taking off the top of someone's head (as Emily Dickinson told us poetry needs to do) is not a simple task.

Gerald SternI was worried about the Dodge Festival before I went. Would it be incestuous—poets loving poets reading other poets who were quoting poets studying poets? But when I read though the program and tried to decide whether I wanted to go, the caliber of people leading workshops reassured me. Heather McHugh (I have to admit I was convinced as soon as I saw her name), Edward Hirsch, Mark Doty, Lucille Clifton, Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa—the list went on and on. Gwendolyn Brooks reading in that honey-toned voice of hers. Gerald Stern accepting the Poet Laureateship of New Jersey. And Stanley Kunitz, our new national Laureate, in his nineties, still forging out to meet the fans. Not many slouchy, self-indulgent names on that list. And wait—Billy Collins and Thomas Lux scheduled to read! I'd heard them talk and read their work before, and the impression that remained was one of amazed laughter. "This will be fun," I thought. And I was right.

Heather McHughMid-morning for four days, poets led small group conversations on topics chosen by the festival organizers: poetry as ritual, poetry and history, poetry and wilderness, poetry and the city. What did Heather McHugh, whose work is intricate and exciting down to the level of syllables and etymology, have to say about something as large as poetry and history? Resist the monumental, she urged. It's the momentary that poetry looks at. The monumental contains small truths put to use by political movements, but the momentary is testimony, is witness. "Movements disrespect peculiarities," McHugh said. "I'm uncomfortable with them. Don't be satisfied with small truths when a larger, more terrifying, yawning truth is out there." And Doty agreed. "Using the communal voice puts you in danger of the generic voice, which is an injustice." The great beauty of Dante, he said, is not in the narrative, though that is lovely, but in the minute details Dante gives us, "the old tailor, threading his needle." And Doty used Robert Pinsky's "The Shirt" as another example of how a single object can carry the echo of time.

Mark DotyMark Doty was certainly one of the favorites of the festival—his sessions were always jammed, tents full, overflow crowds at the edges trying to listen in. And no wonder. He is an articulate, eloquent spokesman for the art of "dragging the unsayable into the said." In discussing two of his poems ("Door to the River"—one of my favorites—and "The Display of Mackerel") during Friday's Poets on Poetry session, Doty revealed that he believes poetry is "an investigation, not an expression of what you know." We don't always reach an answer about what we're examining in a poem, but "ambiguity at the end is good. We see, together, the beautiful, the consoling, the terrifying…we try to negotiate with the facts of being. But remember: our minds are smaller than the world. The whole will elude us. Only moments can be captured." What Doty urges us to do as poets, is spill out from an image. When he saw mackerels lined up for sale at a market—"You don't expect to be entered by beauty at the grocery store!"—he was ready for them. He also had one word of warning for beginning poets: "Don't close too early. Resubmerge yourself, stay under the water as long as possible. Continue to let the shaping give you things that surprise you." Poetry is not self-expression, he urged us to remember, it's art.

Thomas LuxWandering the grounds of the festival, you definitely would have heard laughter coming from whatever tent Thomas Lux or Billy Collins occupied. How can Lux miss with poems such as "Plague Bodies Catapulted into Besieged Cities"? Lux is sly, though—his poems lure us into laughter but, as he said at his Thursday Poets on Poetry session, they're made to "snatch the laugh out of your mouth." Lux is a brilliant reader—hands down the most compelling reader of the Festival. His booming voice ("muscular" is how it was described when he was introduced) and taunting delivery were irresistible. And he did, indeed, make us laugh. At the same time, he left us wondering, puzzled, intrigued, haunted. His poetry is enriched by his reading it aloud, without a doubt—if you ever have the chance to hear Lux read anywhere near you, go. Billy Collins The same is true of Billy Collins—listening to him read was a real pleasure; he's melancholy coupled with great wit. He is one of the most accessible of poets, which is why he is so widely read and appreciated all around the country. But listen at a deeper level. His intelligence and sense of wonder shine though in every line. I loved the moments at the end of his poems, as his voice dropped and we caught his mysterious moments of resolution—there was always a small "ooh" from the audience. I didn't get to attend any of the small sessions he spoke at, and I missed Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, many others. That would be my only criticism of the Dodge Festival—there is such an abundance of riches, how can one choose what to hear, what not to hear?

Stanley KunitzAlmost everyone chose to hear Stanley Kunitz, age 95, our new poet Laureate. "A poem should be capricious, idiosyncratic. It's the occult and passionate grammar of a life." We should listen when Kunitz speaks to us about poetry. He left no doubt that he can fill Robert Pinsky's shoes admirably. Though he did address issues of dwindling arts funding in America ("a disgrace"), he's at his best speaking personally, not politically. I hope he can be comfortable representing the contemplative poet in America—a model we need to respect. We have room for many types of leaders, and Kunitz doesn't need to crisscross the country popularizing poetry. Pinsky did an admirable job with that. As Kunitz said Friday morning, "The capacity to withdraw might be one of the conditions of the creative life." It was a happy coincidence that Kunitz's new volume of collected poems came out just a few days before the Festival began. His stamina with the adoring crowd and long lines of people wanting autographs was a sight to behold.

Ed HirschI can't end without saying something about Edward Hirsch, one of the few poets at the festival to have a book reach the New York Times Bestseller List. Hirsch was a huge hit with the high school teachers and students who were featured at the festival on Thursday. They carried his "How to Read a Poem" around like a guidebook to the Dodge. "When I was in high school I thought everything I wrote was brilliant, but it was completely incoherent," he warned the students, urging them to get to their own best poetry by reading other poets. Be alone with poetry, he told the crowd. You, as readers, are as important as the poet. As examples of his own reading when he was in school, he offered Gerard Manley Hopkins—"I wake and feel the dark of night, not day"—and Walt Whitman—"Beginning my studies, the first step pleased me so much…." Poetry written by poets who read simply spills over from the other poets; we're part of a long line, an ancient line, he advised, with "ancient lamentations." How is it Hirsch can move so seamlessly from speaking about the oracular quality of poetry (I hope you hear him some day say the words, "the Mighty Dead") to telling us about his first publication: "Oh, it was in this awful thing—'Haiku Highlights.' I used to carry it around with me at school and drop it, accidentally, of course, just so I could say, 'Oops… what's this? Oh, just a published poem of mine. Gosh, look at that…" Hirsch is the guy I would have fallen head-over-heels for in high school, no doubt about it.

I hope this description of one poet's experiences at the Dodge Festival convinces you as readers and writers that four days spent in the hinterlands of New Jersey can recharge your batteries. Interesting things are being said. If you listen, you'll emerge a better poet, maybe even a better person. You 'll have fun. You'll have a long list of books to read. You'll return to your world laughing, wondering, ready to write, and ready, as Kunitz put it, "to view a poem as a parcel, suspiciously arrived without a postmark, wrapped in bafflement."


Ginger Murchison, who began writing poetry in 1997, is published so far in Maelstrom, The Penwood Review, Moondance, and The WolfHead Quarterly; and she has work in the following anthologies: Tres di-verse city, 1999, 2000; Poetography: Image as Muse; Touched by Adoption (Green River Press, 1999); Bringing Poetry to Life: New Voices (Free Expressions, 1998), and Intimate Kisses, due from New World Library in February, 2001. She has been selected as a Juried Poet by the judges of the Houston Poetry Fest where she will read later this month. Married and the mother of two, she divides her time between Atlanta, Georgia and Sanibel Island, Florida. She is the Assistant Managing Editor of The Cortland Review.

Julie Larios is a Contributing Editor at The Cortland Review. She's in the MFA program at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she also works as editorial assistant to David Wagoner at Poetry Northwest. Recently, her poetry has appeared in Threepenny Review, Faultline and has been featured on Poetry Daily. Her children's book On the Stairs (illustrated by artist and poet Mary Cornish) was published in September, 1999, by Front Street Books. Another of her books, Have You Ever Done That? is due out next year.

*Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival Photos courtesy of Coleen Marks and Ginger Murchison.

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2002 The Cortland Review