Dodge Q&A: Margaret Waldock on her upcoming talk with Gary Snyder at the Dodge Poetry Festival

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The Dodge Q&A series is designed to introduce you to Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation staff as they share what they’re learning and thinking about as they visit with nonprofits around the state. They’ll also reveal a few things about themselves you might not have known.

With the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival coming up on Oct. 23 to 26 (full details here), we will be speaking to some of the people who help make it happen or who will be playing a special role. 

Today we talk to Margaret Waldock, Environment Program Director. Margaret will be interviewing poet Gary Snyder at “Poetry and the Practice of the Wild” on Oct. 26.

140602_dodgeYou’ll be interviewing poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder at the Dodge Poetry Festival at a special talk on Sunday called Poetry and the Practice of the Wild. Can you give us a primer?

This idea came from a conversation with Martin Farawell, after he revealed some of the poets he was considering for the festival. A number of them are well known nature writers and I thought, “What a great opportunity to call the environmental community together for some rejuvenation and inspiration!”

When Martin told me that Mr. Snyder was on board, I was floored. It’s quite an honor for him to be at our Festival, let alone have the opportunity to interview him.

I am really hoping that this special talk can be a celebration of the themes and messages of his work — a concern for the environment and rejection of the perspective that nature and humanity are in opposition — as inspiration to those committed to protecting New Jersey’s environment, incredible natural resources and landscapes. It’s easy to feel defeated in the face of such seemingly insurmountable challenges — climate change, pollution, suburban sprawl — and easy to feel powerless. We need a revival! And I couldn’t really pick a more perfect artist to provide that inspiration.

Have you had the chance to speak with Mr. Snyder? Were you nervous?

We haven’t actually spoken yet. We’ve communicated by email — and yes, I was so nervous it took me about a week to draft that first email to him.

He has famously lived off-the-grid since settling in the foothills of the Sierras in the late 60’s, so email communication with him is intermittent. In my fantasy, once a week, he’s traveling down some dusty, dirt road in an old pick-up truck heading into town to check his email at the library. This is my fantasy, and I am sticking to it.

It also seems that every time I reach out to him, he’s either preparing for or returning from a back-country trek. The last time we connected, he was just back from a high country climb with writers, scientists, and friends in the southern Sierra Nevada for an unofficial naming of a peak without a name after Henry David Thoreau. This is what I want to be doing when I am 85. Or 55 for that matter.

What do you make of his belief about the connectedness of poets to the natural world? What do you think the environmental community might take from that?

I was first introduced to his work when in college, studying ecology. I remember being really moved by this man’s wisdom, his words spoke to me and made a clear articulation of what I felt — this emotional connection to the natural world and a “knowingness” that is hard to put your finger on, but you just feel it. Maybe it comes from spending a lot of time in the woods as a kid.

And I didn’t grow up in a glamorously “wild” place like the Sierras, but in a 70’s era split-level, built on a lot along a country road in western New York state. But it might as well have been the wilderness.

I find that part of Gary Snyder’s message is that wilderness is everywhere — a weed patch on the side of a highway, for example, and that the connection between humans and nature is fluid, the relationship so ancient and porous that you cannot draw a line or make a distinction. It just is. And knowing this means you understand that what humans do to nature, we do to ourselves. This can be quite a compelling call to action.

Do you have a favorite Gary Snyder poem? How is it significant to you?

I have a few favorites, mostly from his Pulizer Prize winning book Turtle Island:

Mother Earth: Her Whales

Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier than Students of Zen

For the Children

Do you write poetry – or anything else for that matter – outside?

Only in my mind, while on my bike. And I find autumn to be a particularly inspiring season for composing poetry while cycling!

We’ve seen your sidewalk poetry pictures on Twitter, so we know you are excited for the Festival. What else are you looking forward to?



Dodge Environment Program Director Margaret Waldock is celebrating the upcoming Dodge Poetry Festival by scrawling poetry on her sidewalk with chalk. This week’s is Utterance by WS Merwin #dpf2014 #poetrytome @dodgepoetry

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My colleagues at the Dodge Foundation have assembled an astonishing line-up of poets — all in one place, in this city. It’s amazing.

I am particularly looking forward to hearing British poet Alice Oswald who wrote a book-length poem on the River Dart, and Billy Collins, whom I have never seen read in person.  Richard Blanco was at the last festival and he was one of my favorites, so glad he’s returning. And finally, a shout-out to a personal friend, Dan Vera, making his Dodge Poetry Festival debut with his recently published, “Speaking Wiri Wiri.” If you haven’t read it, you should.

Last week, Dodge Foundation CEO Chris Daggett recommended people take a stroll through Military Park while they are at the Festival, and Dodge Poetry Coordinator Michele Russo recommended visitors try the Green Chicpea restaurant. Do you have any recommendations for places visitors new to Newark should visit?

If you have a chance, I suggest checking out Newark’s newest park along the Passaic River, a great place to get perspective that this city is a river town (see photo above and check out a park map here). And of course, you cannot visit Newark without getting some Portuguese food in the Ironbound. Just pick a restaurant, you really cannot go wrong.

Anything else going on that we should know about?

Yes! Definitely want everyone know that we are committed to making the Dodge Festival a sustainable, zero-waste event. Our friends at the Clean Water Fund will be overseeing a massive effort to recycle and compost all of the waste from the festival.  You can help by bringing a refillable water bottle and pay attention to the signs — there will be lots of friendly folks on hand from CWF to help direct you if you don’t know what bin to put things in.  With your help, we can send ZERO waste to the Newark trash incinerator — a major contributor to air pollution in the city.

 —Interview by Meghan Jambor

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