By now the word is all over the place. Jim Haba has retired as Director of the Dodge Poetry Program, a huge amount of funding has been cut off, and the Dodge Poetry Festival will not run in 2010 and maybe never again. People who have attended this festival know what a loss this is. I read in the festival in 2006. It was a fabulous experience and I'm grateful that I got in before the hatchet dropped. I'm sorry for the poets who might have but now won't have this same experience.
But it seems that this rotten economy is creeping into all areas of life. The article about the demise of the festival appeared in Friday's The Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper. Right next to the article is another one announcing that the county I live in has just eliminated 219 jobs. In this week's issue of my local newspaper there is an announcement that my town's one and only independent bookstore is, after many years, closing. I guess they just can no longer compete with the chains and the online bookstores. The Frost Place will not run its annual poetry conference this summer. The enrollment last year dwindled to the point where it is no longer financially feasible. We went to the pizzeria last night. The place was close to empty. So there's grim news all around.
One thought lifts up my poetry spirits a bit: Lots of poetry events can be run on small budgets or no budgets. I'm hopeful that Dodge will fund and run some smaller events. How about an East Coast Poetry Festival? How about state festivals, county ones, local ones? New Jersey poet BJ Ward created the Warren County Poetry Festival which has run since 1999 in alternate years with the Dodge Festival. Maybe other such events might be created? This weekend a few hundred poets have migrated to Cape May, NJ, to participate in Peter Murphy's Winter Getaway, a program designed to give aspiring poets and fiction writers the opportunity to immerse themselves in reading, writing, and talking about poetry and prose for three days.
We will all miss the Dodge Festival, but let's remember that poetry by itself is an inexpensive art. Let's not just accept that there will be no more special events. Let's instead think about creating some new ones. I'm optimistic that Dodge is already thinking along those lines.