Giving Thanks for a Successful 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival

Posted on by Dodge Poetry Staff

From October 11th through the 14th, the city of Newark was full of people from thirty-four states and several foreign countries who’d come together to celebrate the written and spoken word. During those four days and in the weeks since, we’ve received thanks from people who were attending the Festival for the first time, and others who have been to all 14 Festivals since 1986. Some, from California, Florida, Michigan, Maine, have made the biennial pilgrimage to the Dodge Festival a regular part of their lives.

Others were employed to work the Festival and were so moved by what they heard they are determined to attend as patrons at the next Festival.  We are grateful to learn of the many deeply personal connections to poets and poetry people experienced at what many have nicknamed “The Dodge,” and thank those of you who were kind enough to take the time to share them with us.  But this gratitude must be shared and extended to others.

Looking up and seeing Prudential Hall filled to the fourth tier with twenty-eight hundred high school students listening to poetry in rapt silence, it’s easy to forget the work behind-the-scenes that brought them there.

Every one of those school groups required a coordinating teacher to act as liaison with the Festival staff in registering their school, to work with colleagues in selecting students to attend and arranging for adequate numbers of chaperones to accompany them, to contact administrators to schedule buses and substitutes, to gather permission slips from parents, to distribute the Festival Poetry Kit for Teachers to introduce students and teachers to the Festival Poets and, in many cases, to plan fundraisers to support the trip.

Without the teachers who care passionately enough to take on this extra burden, and the administrators who support them, High School Student Day couldn’t happen. In these days more than ever such teachers deserve acknowledgment and gratitude.

Listening to Patricia Smith read selections from her book Blood Dazzler and speak from the haunting voices of Hurricane Katrina while accompanied by the gorgeous New Orleans sounds of Wynton Marsalis’ “At the Octoroon Balls” being played by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra String Quartet, we get caught up in the moment.  But such moments are made from the years it took for those poems and that music to be composed, the decades those musicians dedicated to studying and mastering their instruments, and the collaborative work over months that brought this all together on stage.  If the NJSO, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the many other institutions that fund the orchestra and NJPAC did not exist, there’d have been no “Blood Dazzler at the Octoroon Balls.”

Seeing the Newark Boys Chorus streaming down the aisles of Prudential Hall singing beautifully while Jane Hirshfield and Kurtis Lamkin performed was a moment of pure magic.  But those gifted young men had to make the commitment to being a part of that chorus, to attend rehearsals, study music, and meet the rigorous academic standards of the Newark Boys Chorus School. There needed to be a musical director, Donald Morris, willing to collaborate with us and a gifted enough teacher to bring the best out of those boys. There needed to be a Newark Boys Chorus School, and administrators like Vicki Paulson who enthusiastically supported the project.

Let’s not forget to thank the poets themselves.  Jane Hirshfield and Kurtis Lamkin were wonderful collaborators with the chorus.  But we need to thank all the poets for bringing so much of themselves to the Festival.  Just one example: Despite the language barrier, the audience, many moved to tears, rose en masse in an ovation for Chilean poet Raul Zurita’s incantatory, passionate reading. Afterward we saw people take Zurita’s hands in their own and simply say “gracias,” all they could do to convey their gratitude for what he had given them.

What is there to say about the life that led to those poems, about the work of making art after so much suffering?  What is there to say to all the poets who were so gracious with students and such eager participants in the sometimes very hectic schedules we created for them except gracias, and gracias and again gracias.

And we must say gracias to Mayor Booker and the City of Newark, and to New Jersey Performing Arts Center, who partnered with us in bringing this Festival to its new home.

We want to thank our presenting sponsors: the Prudential Foundation, PSE&G, MCJ Amelior Foundation, NJ Transit, the Sagner Family Foundation, the Victoria Foundation, and the Poetry Foundation, as well as to all of our Friends of the Festival.

Special thanks are due to the entire staff of the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau, especially Michael Davidson, Roosevelt Donat, Nelson Gonzalez and Lauren Hall. They worked tirelessly on behalf of the Festival and on behalf of the arts community in Newark and for their efforts in marketing and promoting our work, we are truly thankful.

We want to thank the hundreds of people who worked so hard to make the Festival happen – the staff of NJPAC for their expertise, guidance and friendship, the amazing team of NJPAC volunteers, the NJPAC ushers and house management staff, the staff of the Dodge Foundation, the City of Newark’s Police Department, The City of Newark’s Office of Sustainability , The Clean Water Fund and it’s Green Team volunteers for supporting our greening effort, MiMi Madlinger and NJ TRANSIT for making round-trip rides available to Festival-goers, Marty Gilbert and Rosita Stith and the book store staff for their dedication, and all of the School Coordinators who made this experience possible for their students. We also want to thank The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Newark Downtown District, YouthBuild Newark and the International Youth Corps, the Star Ledger and The Newark Public Schools.

We want to thank the venues and the individuals who welcomed us into their amazing spaces: The Newark Museum, Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art, Trinity St. Philip’s Cathedral, New Jersey Historical Society, First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church, Bethany Baptist Church and North Star Academy.

And of course, we want to thank those who attended the Festival for supporting the arts.

Dodge’s commitment to poetry is year-round. Even while we are planning for each Festival, we are also offering our Poetry-in-the-Schools program, which includes the Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain program for teachers, mini festivals, and poet visits to high schools. You can keep up-to-date with Dodge’s Poetry Program a number of ways throughout the year: subscribe to our YouTube channel to see past Festival performances and be the first to see videos of performances from the 2012 Festival. You can look to our Facebook page for a Festival round-up and the latest program updates, and follow us on Twitter @DodgePoetryFest for all the latest links to videos, programs, photos and current Poetry Program news.

While it’s still fresh in your mind, we want your feedback on the Festival.   Take our public survey, here. Also, if you wrote a blog post about the Festival, we would love to read it. Please share your links via Facebook, Twitter, email or as a comment on the blog, or email us at

Although we’re still reeling from the excitement of the 2012 Festival, it’s never too early to start planning for the 2014 Festival, and your partnership is vital to making it happen. Please consider becoming a Friend of the Festival.

From the Dodge Poetry Staff and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, we thank you for making the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival so memorable and successful.

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