Poetry died with Byron, and all the other white guys, some would say. Poetry? That’s just something they force down your throat in school. Poetry is irrelevant. Poetry is a luxury.
On Friday, my co-worker and I took two students to the Dodge Poetry Festival. The first session we attended was a Festival Poet Reading in the Victoria Theatre with Brian Barker, Henri Cole, Sharon Dolin, Nikky Finney, and John Murillo. Although everyone was good, I was most impressed with Nikky Finney and John Murillo. John Murillo had swag. One of our students wondered how he would write some of the sounds he used in his reading. I am curious to see how his work translates when written. Nikky Finney is someone I never knew of before this session. The Dodge store did not have the book I wanted, which included one of the poem’s she read, Elephantine. [update: obvi I bought this online]
Our second session involved a short walk down the block and around the corner to the Center for Arts Education to see Kurtis Lamkin perform. He was very engaging. I learned a lot about the instrument he plays called a Kora.
One of the sessions I was particularly interested in was with Gregory Orr. I had used his I Believe essay on poetry as survival. My friend Janice and I have spoken about the connection you can feel to other people and animals, especially when there is an unspoken familiarity between you and this other. That is how I feel about Gregory Orr’s work. I appreciate his candor. I left this session with what I think is a good idea for a prompt with my students. One that is similar to my first writing assignment of the year and that is also my students’ overwhelming favorite.
It was a long day and we decided to go eat (reluctantly).
Our last session of the day was called “Conversation: on the Life of the Poet” with John Murillo, Larissa Szporluk., and Raul Zurita. We found this the least engaging of the day’s sessions. I am sure this was also partially influenced by the fact that it was our last session after a long day. Raul Zurita was very funny and his humorous responses made me want to read his writing, even though I knew he did not write about light topics.
Our second day at Dodge started at “In Praise: Music and Poetry” with Kurits Lamkin, Jane Hirshfield, and the Newark Boys Choir in Prudential Hall. I enjoyed this more than I was expecting to. Also, I found myself enjoying Lamkin’s pieces more today than yesterday. I went to buy his cd, but they were sold out!
Next, we stayed in the Prudential Hall for “Conversation: Poetry and Working Life” with Eavan Boland, Dorianne Laux, Philip Levine, and Joseph Millar. The only writer in this group I had heard of before was Philip Levine. And I wasn’t even that familiar with his work. But I really enjoyed his sense of humor so I bought two of his books.
For the next session, we stayed where we were for “Conversation: A Voice for the Voiceless” with Philip Levine, Juan Felipe Herrera, Natasha Trethewey, and Raul Zurita.
Our final session for the day was “Conversation: From Homer to Hip Hop/Poetry and the Oral Tradition” with Kurtis Lamkin, Rachel McKibbens, and Taylor Mali. I wish the poets had read more of their own pieces and shared more of their own knowledge. There was a very long question and answer period that I did not find useful or engaging.
Sunday started with more Festival Poet Readings with Adele Kenny, Taylor Mali, Raul Zurita and Narubi Selah. Because of yesterday’s hip-hop session we wanted to see more of Taylor Mali and he did not disappoint. I also wanted to hear Adele Kenny. In 1996, when I was in eighth grade, Ms. Kenny workshopped a poem I wrote and submitted to the Teen Arts Festival. She is part of my (limited) writing history and I felt compelled to hear her. She was just as lovely as I remember.
Our next session was one the that originally solidified my decision to attend the Dodge Festival: “Giving Voice to Lucille Clifton” with Nikky Finney, Natasha Trethewey, and Lucille Clifton’s daughters” Aexia Clifton, Gillian Clifton, and Sydney Clifton. Hearing the personal stories of Ms. Finney and Clifton’s daughters gave me a new appreciation for her writing.
The next session we attended was “Blood Dazzler at the Octoroon Balls” with Patricia Smith and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra String Quartet in Prudential Hall. I felt a little disjointed and I feel like had I read the work in advance I might have been more engaged. I did find the concept of the music with the writing to be an interesting approach.
With some spare time, we headed back into the book tent. How fortuitous, as we bumped into Newark Mayor Corey Booker (swoon). Dodge ended with some readings on the main stage. We snuck in to hear Natasha Trethewey.
I left with less money in my bank account and more books than I have time to read, but what an amazing experience. Perhaps, a poetry club is in my professional future tbc . . .