Saturday, January 17, 2009

No More Dodge Poetry Festival

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.

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  1. I never had the opportunity to attend this festival, so I hope they bring it back. The economy is terrible. The Literary Center at the Margaret Mitchell House here in Atlanta was one of the leaders in bringing poets and authors to the city an they laid off the entire staff. Everyone is scrambling here to help fill in this whole in the lit community.

  2. What's the lowdown on Warren this fall?

  3. This is a festival I never got to but always consoled myself by saying "one day." I am saddened though I think of and know poetry as a solitary art both in reading and writing it.

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  5. We locals were lucky to have been able to pocket so many Dodge memories - they were extraordinary moments in time. We are also lucky in NJ to have so many good regular series and events at the end of very manageable commutes; perhaps these can be the seeds for the next WCPFs and such.

    Of course, you're an old hand at creating great moments for poetry, aren't you? What do you have in mind?

    Speaking of which, for those of us with literary-minded daughters, what's the minimum age you'd suggest for "Girl Talk" in March?

  6. Collin--The entire staff? That's awful. Maybe public libraries will be the last venues standing, and only because they're free. Hey--looking forward to your Idol write-ups!

    Anthony--I haven't heard anything yet about Warren County. That's funded by the arts council in that county and now run by Robert Carnevale. I'll keep my ear to the ground.

    David--What I'm hoping for is more smaller type festivals like Warren County. I think they can be done on an even smaller budget. We have many good poets within driving distance.

    As for Girl Talk--no age requirement or limit. Bring your budding poet along.

  7. It is very sad that the Dodge is no more. But I do hope you are right that there will be a re-birth of poetry festivals at the local and regional level. We are hard at work on the second annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival for October 16 & 17th in the museums, National park buildings and restaurants of Lowell. More information soon at The first ever festival was a great hit and we hope this next one will be even better. Still nothing will replace the Dodge.

  8. Is it still the latest that the Dodge Poetry Fest was killed? I heard that the Star-Ledger recently reported that the Mayor of Montclair was offering to host the festival.


  9. OK, yes, there is still hope!!

    Montclair works to save popular poetry festival
    by Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger
    Sunday March 01, 2009, 9:41 AM

    Montclair has made a serious bid to partner with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to save the biennial Dodge Poetry Festival, a four-day event that attracts high- profile poets and tens of thousands of poetry lovers.

    Montclair Township manager Joseph Hartnett wants to present the 2010 festival in Montclair's central business district, which includes several performance spaces and church halls as well as restau rants and parking.

    "We can save this festival," said Hartnett, who will give the Dodge team a tour of the downtown next week. "The Dodge is a festival of national if not international re nown. We consider ourselves among the premier arts communities in New Jersey ... and we want to build on that."

    In January, the foundation announced it would not present the 2010 festival because the recent market meltdown caused its net assets to drop by one-third, to about $210 million.

    Dodge president and CEO David Grant said Montclair is one of several potential partners who have offered to help revive it.

    "There have been a number of people who have reached out and said 'Let's talk,' including Mont clair," said Grant, who declined to provide details about the other offers. "What it has done for us is given us a cautious optimism that we can bring the festival back in some form in 2010."

    The poetry festival was held 12 times between 1986 and last year, attracting more than 140,000 visitors from 42 states. Waterloo Village in Byram Township played host to all but the 2004 festival, which was hosted by Duke Farms in Hillsborough. Each event at tracted thousands of high school students and their teachers, who were admitted for free.

    One of the largest gatherings of its kind, the event draws powerhouse writers, including U.S. Poet Laureates Billy Collins, Robert Hass and Pulitzer Prize winners Paul Muldoon and Maxine Kumin. PBS produced five television specials hosted by Bill Moyers that were seen by millions of viewers.

    Given the economic climate, Dodge decided it could not afford the festival's $1.3 million price tag. Last year, the foundation spent $15 million on grants and programs.

    Grant said presenting a large public event was a burden to the foundation.

    Hartnett said that's where Montclair can help.

    "We can relieve them from the stress of creating the infrastructure," said Hartnett, noting that the town hosts an annual First Night event, the New Year's Eve celebration of arts and culture that brings people on foot to various downtown venues. "We know how to do these things."

    Grant said he welcomed the offers of support.

    "I am gratified but not sur prised," he said. "In response to my original letter to the poetry community I received lots of e-mails expressing understanding and support."

    The foundation will continue to discuss the proposals in the up coming months as it decides the festival's future, he said.

    "We're grateful for the people who want to plan with us," he said. "It's helping us be very clear about what the essence of the festival is, the educational and the artistic goals around it."

    Dana Maloney, a teacher at Te nafly High School who attended past festivals, was cheered by the news that the event might be revived.

    "Montclair is a town that is wonderfully welcoming to the arts," she said, adding that it is "socially-conscious" and "civic minded."

    But she worries about what would be lost if the pastoral setting of Waterloo Village is replaced by a normal, if culturally minded downtown.

    "The remoteness and other worldliness of those places has been an important and magical component," she said. "Having it in the real world would take away some of that magic.

    "It would be nice, it just wouldn't be the same."

    Hartnett conceded that Mont clair's urban setting is different from the pastoral environment of years past, but he said that could be a positive.

    "This just gives it a whole different buzz," he said. "It's a marriage made in heaven."

  10. i just recently fell in love with Mark Doty, saw a reading of his from this festival (from '06 i think). last year i went to the International Story Telling Festival in TN. just wondering if you happened to know of any similar events around the Atlanta area. any info would be much appreciated.


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