a gephyrophobe in newark: at the dodge poetry festival, october 21-23

by Jennifer Martelli | December 2016

I had the good fortune for the second time in a row of attending The Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ. The 2016 Festival marked the thirtieth anniversary of this wonderful festival, but to get to there, I had to cross The Hudson River twice--an impossibility if you have a fear of bridges as I do! I needed my friends Cindy Veach and Jennifer Jean to drive my car over two bridges. As Cindy ferried across the cantilevered Tappan Zee in my own car, I snapped photos of her at the wheel, maneuvering the shadows this great bridge made. When I think of The Dodge Poetry Festival, I think of friendship: the kindness of friends, and how friendships are vital to poetry.

The Dodge Poetry Festival is a four-day festival consisting of student days of poetry, panels, poets forums, music, and of course, readings by some of today’s most influential writers. U.S. Poet Laureates and chancellors of The Academy of American Poets read and shared their poems, their processes, and their ideas on poetry in our society. One of the reasons I was thrilled to be at Dodge was to support my friends (some old and some local) who were reading: two years ago, Crystal Bacon and January Gill O’Neil; this year, Kevin Carey and Somerville’s poet laureate, Nicole Terez Dutton. It was gratifying to share in their honor and to be one of the familiar faces in the audience for them.

My favorite parts of Dodge were the Poets Forums. These were discussions between poets on a specific issue, either craft or societal. Poets read and mused about work they admired--two poets for the price of one! It’s always edifying to hear what poems or which poets teach those who have taught me so much. For example, Mark Doty, as part of his discussion on the poetic line, read Donald Hall’s poem, “Gold.” I was treated to a gorgeous poem, read by a total admirer! I could hear the poem as Doty heard it: two strong voices at once. Khaled Mattawa, during a forum on American Poetries, began to cry during his reading of “Learning to Pray All Over.” I was moved witnessing his emotional response to someone else’s work. During that same forum, Claudia Rankine, read and critiqued work by Dante Collins. Rankine allowed her steady and serious voice to plumb the depths of America in poems that she has thought about deeply.

We were tired coming home. This time, we crossed at the George Washington Bridge. Riding shotgun in my own car, I scrolled through photos on the Dodge Poetry Festival Facebook page. About halfway over The Hudson River, someone from the festival posted that Lucia Perillo had died. The poetry community was still in the early grieving of Brigit Pegeen Kelley, who had passed that previous week. Their voices were so vital to me, especially when I first started writing. I’m drawn me to poetry festivals, like Dodge. And I’m always excited and proud to be a part of our own Mass Poetry Festival.  These festivals are the places where I feel a wide community and a deep appreciation of the creation of poetry.