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 conduct their work around the state. They’ll also reveal a few things about themselves you might not have known.
Today, we talk to Ysabel Gonzalez, Dodge Poetry’s assistant director, who joined the staff in November.
Your work experience is rooted in program planning for higher education institutions – including your roles at Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts and Rutgers Graduate School’s Center for Effective School Practices — what brings you to the poetry field?
Yes, I worked in higher education for almost 15 years! Once I decided to go back to school for my Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry, I felt it was time to transition into a career in the arts — which is what brought me to the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton. There, I worked with a range of artistic fellows from all programs, including theater, visual arts, dance, music, and of course, creative writing. Once I completed my MFA in Poetry, I focused on marrying the best of both worlds: my skill set in program planning with my passion for poetry. I feel fortunate to be here with the Poetry Program at Dodge, supporting the world of poetry, which I love so much.
What does your new role entail?
I’m committed to bringing voices in contemporary poetry to New Jersey communities. Through our Spring and Fountain program, I work to coordinate sessions for teachers to connect, or reconnect, with poetry in new ways outside of the classroom, focusing on the pure experience and pleasure of poetry.
I also coordinate mini-festivals at New Jersey schools, which is a wonderful way for students to interact with engaging poets — the poets read their own work and talk with students about what it’s like as a poet. The best part about our mini-festivals is that our schools don’t have to wait until our biennial festival for their students to interact with Dodge poets. I especially love having the opportunity to bring these phenomenal poets into schools that don’t often have opportunities to have students engage with living artists.
And in my new role, of course, I work hard with the rest of our Poetry team to plan the biannual Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark.
Most importantly in my work here at Dodge, I want to introduce communities to exciting contemporary poets who engage with language in a very accessible way — poetry is in the hands of the people again — and I want our youth to know that everyone is entitled to it. Even if you’re not interested in writing poetry, there is something innate in our human need for oral storytelling and creating magic through tales.
Not only did you recently receive your MFA in Poetry, you are a published poet, Newark native and you have performed at the Dodge Poetry Festival, during the Brick City Voices session. Is there anything you’re most looking forward to experiencing working behind the scenes at the Poetry Festival?
I love that I’m returning to Newark in a new capacity. I admire the way my hometown of Newark is committed to the arts and is thinking about ways to get more people open access to poetry. I’m excited to be a part of this Program at Dodge that not only supports the city, but also strives to support a national stage that most accurately represents the diverse range of poetry voices today. I’m most thrilled to be supporting that stage and providing more poets the opportunity to share their much-needed words. I’m also hopeful that my efforts, in future festivals, continue to help Dodge reach groups that might not normally get exposed to poetry. This Festival is for everyone, not just other poets.
Can you tell us a little about your own writing process?
One thing that helps me in my writing process is connecting with other artists. For as long as I can remember, I have taken the time to thank the authors of books I really connect with and pick his or her brain to learn about their own writing process. It’s really incredible how genuine and gracious writers can be with their time. Also, creating space for writing through retreats and workshops is helpful. Mentorship and community have gotten me to where I am now, that’s for sure.
As far as my own poems, what really works for me nowadays is a blank, unruled notebook where I can write and draw — many of my first drafts don’t have line breaks. I’m learning it’s important to get it all down on the page, and then I can cull, pull images and language I want in further drafts. It’s hard not to self-edit in the first few drafts, but it’s very easy to miss something really important to the poem if you do that. In going through notebooks and revisions, it’s fascinating to see what images continue to pop up — and it’s fun to see how I can challenge myself by exploring fresh and new language I haven’t used, along with new images.
We have it on good authority you have a fierce Wonder Woman memorabilia collection. How did your fascination begin; and can you tell us about your favorite piece?
I’m fascinated with Wonder Woman because she is one of the few female superheroes that didn’t originate with a male counterpart. Her entire backstory, and origin, is super interesting and empowering. I’ve tried writing poems about her, but I never seem to do her, or her lasso, justice (no pun intended). I have several fun pieces, but my favorite is a red pillow my mother sewed from super-cool, old-school Wonder Woman fabric.