Dodge Poetry Festival Gets Underway

BY Jeffrey Brown  October 12, 2012 at 1:01 PM EST

Dodge Poetry Festival

The 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival is underway, billed as the largest poetry gathering in North America. This will be the third time it’s being held in Newark, after many years in the woods in a much more rural New Jersey setting.

This year’s program is as rich and diverse as ever, with Philip Levine, Eavan Boland, Patricia Smith and Natasha Trethewey among the many participants. All of the events are accessible by train or public transportation, so if you’re in the area, you have no excuse!

Martin Farawell is the director of the festival, and I spoke to him yesterday by phone about this year’s program.

A transcript is after the jump.

JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome again to Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown. The 14th Dodge Poetry Festival is underway. It’s billed as the largest poetry gathering in North America. This is just the second time it’s being held in Newark after many years in the woods in a much more bucolic rural New Jersey setting. Martin Farawell is the director of the festival and he joins us now. Welcome to you.

MARTIN FARAWELL: Thank you, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let’s start with that switch. How has the move changed the character of the festival? What do you think?

MARTIN FARAWELL: Well, one of the big changes is just the nature of the venues. We used to put up a bunch of temporary tents, including a circus tent that seats 2,000, and in downtown Newark the main venue is Prudential Hall at the New Jersey Performing Art Center, which is just a stunning concert hall, and some of the other venues — the Victoria Theater and the Chase Room, which are all just beautiful, state-of-the-art performance spaces. But there are also historical churches in the neighborhood like First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church, Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral, and these are just those kind of architectural wonders you find in old American cities.

JEFFREY BROWN: That must change the whole flavor of the festival. Must have changed the audiences that come as well, right?

MARTIN FARAWELL: We actually noticed in 2010 that the audience was younger over the weekend and more diverse, because for the first time we are in a major mass-transit hub. The old setting, if you didn’t have a car you couldn’t get there. We are literally a 20-minute ride on the PATH train from downtown New York City. There is a long, urban corridor along the Hudson River connected by a rail system, The trains here go to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston. It’s the first time, I think, that the audience has began to reflect the diversity of the lineup. The poetry lineup has always been very diverse, and now it’s really quite exciting to see that same diversity in the audience that can come here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us, and especially for those who don’t get there, besides being big what is this festival supposed to be doing? How do you envision it when you are putting it together?

MARTIN FARAWELL: The goal is to give people a sense of the American poetries that are out there. That’s a phrase from the late Adrienne Rich, who said there was no one American poetry, there’s American poetries so many. We’ve all heard about slam poetry, spoken word poetry, language poetry, academic poetry — people put poetry into silos. The whole goal of the festival has always been to celebrate all different voices, all different styles and to get us all listening to each other, to celebrate the fact that poetry is one of our oldest arts. It began as soon as we cuold speak. There is a great joy and a great pleasure in being read to, in hearing stories and songs and poems aloud. It becomes this kind of ancient sitting-around-the-campfire human experience that we sometimes forget, just the sheer pleasure of having someone read to us. And in so many different voices, so many different traditions, there is something for everyone. Whether they are experts or scholars or people who think they don’t like poetry, they come and they hear something that they are often delightfully surprised at how moved or amused they are.

JEFFREY BROWN: How about yourself this year? I don’t how much you want to single out any one or two or three things, but is there something you are especially excited about this year?

MARTIN FARAWELL: I am really excited about the diversity of the lineup. We have everyone from Ada Limon, who is just emerging — she’s quite young, her third book just came out — to Philip Levine, who was poet laureate — he’s 83, one of the great American poets — Eavan Boland, who’s considered Ireland’s greatest living woman poet, Natasha Trethewey, who was just named poet laureate, and Patricia Smith, someone who comes out of the slam tradition and yet has developed amazing publishing credentials. She’s doing an event with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra String Quartet. She is going to be reading selections from a book-length sequence called “Blood Dazzler” about Hurricane Katrina, and the quartet’s going to be playing at “At the Octoroon Balls,” which is Wynton Marsalis’ first string quarter, which is a musical history of New Orleans. The two pieces go together with almost astonishing beauty. That’s one of the things I’m very excited about. I just came from a rehearsal with the Newark Boys Chorus, Jane Hirshfield and Kurtis Lamkin. Lamkin play the kora, which is the 21-string West African instrument, and they’re going to be doing an event on Saturday morning called “In Praise,” which is going to be songs and poems of praise in anyway you can define them. There are conversations and poets-on-poetry sessions and reading all day and all night, but one of the things that makes the Dodge Festival unique is the conversations we have. They are not academic lectures, they are not seminars on how to get published or get an editor. They are conversations between living poets and the audience about, really, the life behind the making of poems and the life of the poet and the dilemmas and challenges you face. They tend to be very human, direct, intimate sometimes, conversations, quite different from what you get in a more academic setting.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, N.J. Martin Farawell is the director. Thanks so much for talking to us.

MARTIN FARAWELL: Can you give people the web address?

JEFFREY BROWN: Go ahead give it.

MARTIN FARAWELL: www.dodgepoetry.org. And we’re here through Sunday.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thanks so much for talking to us.

MARTIN FARAWELL: Thank you so much for talking to us.

JEFFREY BROWN: And thanks for joining us again on Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown.