Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Held during each day at venues throughout the site, Conversations have always been a central feature of the Dodge Poetry Festival. Because the Festival is neither an academic conference nor a career symposium for writers, these conversations tend to be more intimate, casual and spontaneous than those you might encounter in other settings. Peruse the list below to learn about the Conversations offered this year—there’s sure to be topics of interest to you—and see our Full Schedule of Events for further details.
Conversations with One Festival Poet
These sessions are “conversations” between a single Festival Poet and the audience. The Festival Poet draws on their own experiences and poems, and some time is allotted for questions from the audience.
POETS ON POETRY
To paraphrase Gerald Stern, poets are readers who occasionally stop reading long enough to write something down. In these sessions, Festival Poets talk about their vital relationship to poetry as readers and artists. They may address their understanding of poetry, their experience of becoming a poet and how individual poems—both those written by themselves and others—have contributed to that process.
POETS FOR TEACHERS
Teachers have their own reasons for caring about poetry, and these sessions are intended for educators at all classroom levels. As in POETS ON POETRY, a Festival Poet will lead the conversation about poems and the art of poetry itself. Part of the aim is to renew teachers’ personal connections with poetry and thereby free up their confidence and flexibility when bringing poetry into their classrooms.
CONVERSATIONS ON CRAFT
What is the larger purpose of craft itself? What is the reward of mastering this hard-earned skill? Festival Poets consider and discuss questions related to the craft of making poems, from the general (such as work schedules and patterns of revision) to the specific (for instance, the uses of traditional forms, the subtleties of line breaks or the place of sound and phrasing in composition).
Conversations Involving Several Festival Poets
These discussions are “conversations” between two to five poets on a broad range of poetry topics, each speaking from personal experience and often using poems as examples. Time is often set aside for questions from the audience.
ON THE LIFE OF THE POET
What goes on behind and around a life that produces poems? How does one find a way to make a life as a poet? Festival Poets share their personal observations and experiences, outlining their own challenges and rewards, delights and disappointments.
WHEN POLITICS IS PERSONAL
Most poets, even those who don’t write political poems, agree that, if a political matter is of personal importance to a particular poet, it is a valid topic for poetry. But some have taken the position that political debate never has a place in poetry. Festival Poets consider how and when poetry might/might not be called upon to bear witness.
GOING PUBLIC WITH PRIVATE FEELINGS
How much of one’s personal life can be made available in a work of art? Form and structure—art itself—can make it possible to approach certain feelings and to survive going public with them. This session touches on the difficulty and the importance of articulating private feelings, of trying to say personal truth, as Festival Poets use their own and others’ poems to illustrate the issues.
I ONLY LAUGH WHEN IT HURTS: WIT AND HUMOR IN POETRY
The serious need not always be solemn. The work of many contemporary poets suggests that profound subjects can be approached through humor, and this is part of a centuries-long tradition. Join former U.S. Poets Laureate Billy Collins and Kay Ryan in a “conversation in poems,” their own and others’, as they read and discuss the place of wit and humor in poetry.
POETRY ACROSS BORDERS
More than language must be translated when poems, and poets, move across borders. Why does it matter, for the poetry community everywhere, for poets and poetries to keep traveling across borders? Festival Poets offer different perspectives on these topics, ranging from immigrating to another country to writing in a language other than their native tongue.
Adrienne Rich wrote there is no such thing as an “American Poetry.” Instead, there are American Poetries, so many divergent schools that no single style or aesthetic can be singled out as the definitively “American” one. Festival Poets consider what we might gain from this diversity and by listening more closely to each other?
THE RICHES OF DAILY LIFE
Much traditional and contemporary poetry in many parts of the world finds grounding in the actualities of the ordinary. In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke responds to the young poet’s concern that he has not lived a rich enough life to have any material for poems: “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it. Blame yourself. Tell yourself you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.” This session explores how what we encounter in our daily lives can be a powerful source or springboard for poetry.
POETRY AND CLASS
This event explores the questions of class status—educational, socioeconomic, cultural—and how it influences poetry and poets. Is poetry an elite art for the members of a particular class? One of the folks arts? Must one lose one’s native voice to cross over and be accepted by the arbiters of taste? Festival Poets discuss how poetry continues to grapple with these concerns.
POETRY AND SPOKEN WORD
Recent decades have seen an explosion of interest in poetry slams, jams, readings and open mikes in urban, suburban and rural communities. The oral tradition is far older than any distinctions between poet and storyteller, shaman and actor. Festival Poets explore what contemporary poets and spoken-word artists might learn by approaching each other as compatriots in a much older tradition.
A CERTAIN KIND OF ATTENTION
William Stafford once wrote that a poem was anything said or written with “a certain kind of attention.” This quality of attention was required of both the poet and the reader, for both the writing and reading of poetry require a certain adjustment to our normal level of attentiveness. What happens if we turn this attentiveness to the world, to our surroundings and to poetry itself?
POETRY AND HISTORY
In which ways has poetry traditionally been used as a primary repository for memory? It has been said that history is written by the victors, poetry by the survivors. How do we negotiate the distance between the “official story” and the news we get from poems? How do we find in poetry ways to help ourselves confront fact, actual occurrence and ignored truth? How does poetry preserve and illuminate personal history, the history of a people, the history of a species, the history of life itself?
LEGACIES AND LEGENDS: A CONVERSATION WITH AMIRI BARAKA
Guest moderator Baraka Sele, Curator/Producer of NJPAC’s ongoing Alternate Routes series, interviews Amiri Baraka. This is a special installment of Legacies and Legends, a series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, scholars, entrepreneurs, film makers and others who have contributed to the cultural, educational, social, political and even spiritual contexts and landscapes impacting our communities, our country and our culture. Legacies and Legends will include conversations with Bill T. Jones and Phillip Glass in the months ahead.
POETRY AND MENTORS
Harold Bloom claimed that each rising generation of writers competes with and rejects its immediate predecessors in a fiercely competitive struggle for independence and dominance. Yet most poets are quick to acknowledge the importance of those teachers and mentors who nurtured and encouraged them and consider it their duty as members of the poetry community to support and teach the next generation. Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar were two such mentors to Matthew and Michael Dickman, and they have a particularly compelling story to tell. Join these four poets in a conversation about the importance of the mentor relationship in poetry.
TELL ALL THE TRUTH BUT TELL IT SLANT
In one poem, Emily Dickinson advises “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” What is the purpose of approaching truth obliquely? Can we ever know how much of an apparently autobiographical poem is literally true? How can we trust the testimony of its author, regardless of what they assert about the authentic or fictional nature of a piece? Why should such questions matter to readers or poets?
POETRY AND FORM
How do our ideas about poetry and form influence our sense of what a poem is or what is possible in poetry? Can predetermined ideas about free verse be as restrictive as those regarding traditional form? Do our ideas about form shift while reading a given poem or change from one poem to the next? What do we gain by challenging instead of defending our ideas about form?
POETRY AS PRAYER, POETRY AS CURSE
Samuel Beckett wrote, “All poetry is prayer.” Much poetry does seem to aspire to the higher states of consciousness we often associate with incantation and ritual, and often the line between poems and prayers of praise vanishes. There is an equally ancient tradition of using verse to curse our enemies, and almost as many poems excoriate as praise. Why does some remnant of this ancient belief in the power of rhythmic language survive in contemporary poems that praise or curse? Why do we turn to poetry for these extreme functions?
SILENCE IS BECOME SPEECH: THE EMERGENCE OF WOMEN’S VOICES
“Silence is become speech,” Muriel Rukeyser wrote in “The Speed of Darkness,” one of her groundbreaking poems. Compare the number of women poets in a turn-of-the-19th-century anthology with that of a collection published today and the emergence of women’s voices in the century is dramatic. What has this shift meant to poetry in general? How has it affected what we, as readers, expect or accept from poetry? How has it changed the poems that men write? That women write? What does it mean for women to have a sense of community within the poetry community?
POETRY LIKE BREAD
Like the anthology of the same name, this conversation gets its title from these lines from Roque Dalton’s poem “Like You” (Como Tú): “I believe the world is beautiful/and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” But how is poetry for everyone? What happens to the idea of poems as sophisticated objets d’art if we begin to think of them as something as common as loaves of bread? Festival Poets explore how poetry, like bread, can offer us life and sustenance.
WHERE POETRY MATTERS
“Does poetry matter?” would not be asked by anyone who has ever attended, performed in, produced or organized any of the open mikes, poetry jams or slams that have sprung up in community centers, church basements, libraries, bookstores and coffee shops in our urban centers. At these events it is immediately, powerfully obvious how crucial this avenue for self-expression and self-discovery is for many of our urban youth. Four young poets straight out of Newark’s own poetry renaissance will discuss the important place of poetry assumed in their lives, and why it continues to matter to them and to the young people of Newark and our many urban centers.
FROM HOMER TO HIP-HOP
Homer’s Iliad is filled with horrific scenes of hand-to-hand combat described in gory detail. The women in his Odyssey are often destructive, bewitching, jealous and vengeful. The charges sometimes made against rap and hip-hop—that they are violent and misogynistic—could be leveled against these two masterpieces of Western Literature and against nearly every ancient epic. Is it the distance of centuries that makes their violence tolerable? William Carlos Williams wrote, “it is hard to get the news from poems.” Could it be that some of us don’t want to hear the news in rap and hip-hop? What might connect the oral tradition’s long history of telling the news of its time and the emergence of rap and hip-hop in our times?
POETRY AND WORK
It is almost always assumed that a poet must perform some other work to earn a living and sustain a life in this art. The late Stanley Kunitz, a lifelong gardener, advised younger poets to find some work that took them completely out of their heads, work that required physical engagement with the world. Many poets have created some of their most powerful poems from work experiences, and from speaking for the silent and unheard who do some of our dirtiest and most thankless jobs. What does it mean that we even draw a distinction between “work” and the poet’s work?
PUTTING A PUBLIC FACE ON POETRY: THE U.S. POETS LAUREATE
Since 1937, the Library of Congress has appointed a “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry” (also titled “Consultant in Poetry,” prior to 1986) to a one-year or longer term. The Laureate’s task: to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. Former Poets Laureate Billy Collins (2001-2003), Rita Dove (1993-95), Kay Ryan (2008-2009) and Mark Strand (1990-91) discuss their own experiences and initiatives while in this post, as well as what it means to be the public face of what many consider an art best created and read in private.
THE POET AS CITIZEN
Poetry is sometimes said to revolve around private perception and emotion. At the same time it has been a powerful glue for many communities, a force that linked individuals into a family of feeling and belief. Festival Poets consider the role of the artist as a member of a community—be it the world, a nation, state, race or species. What are the artist’s responsibilities to any or all of these communities? How are these related to the integrity of the artist? What is the relation of art in general and poetry in particular to contemporary communities?
SAYING THE UNSAYABLE
Poets often take on topics that might never be broached at the dinner table, as well as reveal secrets kept by individuals, families, communities or nations. Witnesses’ testimonies to the horrors of war, daring political protests, sexual trauma and all forms of abuse have found their way into poems. How does the unsayable get said? Why do we need to say it? Festival Poets explore these ideas, along with the preparation needed to make art out of what might, in many contexts, be considered “taboo” material.
If you haven’t purchased your Festival tickets yet, keep in mind that all events this year are taking place in performance venues that, unlike open-sided tents, have fixed seating capacities. If you want to guarantee a seat for the evening events, you should purchase your tickets in advance.
Return in the days ahead for updates on the 2010 Poetry Festival.
Pictured above, left to right: Franz Wright, Edward Hirsch, Joy Harjo and Simon Armitage in a conversation: Going Public with Private Feelings at the 2008 Festival. Photograph by T. Charles Erickson.
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