by Liz Griesmer
WHS students and teachers attended the Student Day portion of the fourteenth biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival on Oct. 12. The festival, which is held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, is the largest poetry event in North America, according to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
Described by The New York Times as “Wordstock,” the event attracts audiences from 17,000-20,000. The festival is four days long, though WHS students and faculty only attended the second day. While some performers have achieved international recognition and acclaim, other will be making their poetry debut at the festival.
According to the Atlantic Highlands Herald, notable performers for the 2012 festival include U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine, four time National Grand Slam Champion Patricia Smith, Pulitzer Prize Winner Natasha Trethewey, poet-musician Kurtis Lamkin, and award-winning Irish poet Eavan Boland.
Segments of the festival include Poets on Poetry, Poet Readings, Poets for Teachers, Storytelling, and Open Reading. The Poets on Poetry section involves conversations with poets on their work, and the Open Reading section involves selected students reading their own poetry. There is also an Evening Main Stage Program, which features poetry readings and music, free of charge.
The festival is free to schools who pre-register for the event.
English Teacher and Folio Adviser Mr. Marc Silbergeld said, “This year, 36 students and nine teachers [went] together on Student Day — mostly consisting of Folio editorial staffers, students from Writer’s Craft, and other random juniors and seniors who have a passion for poetry.”
Alexa Derman, a Folio staff member and a junior in Writer’s Craft, said she was excited to attend the festival. “I love poetry and love live performances.... I also like theater, so I like seeing how people deliver it.”
English Teacher Mr. Steven Cohn said, “The way I see it, going to Dodge for the first time [was] like going to a foreign country for the first time...it’s like traveling back in time to when the bards of old roamed the land and recited their poetry to the audience. Only this time it's in downtown Newark, NJ.”
Project ‘79 Coordinator Mr. Peter Horn, who has attended every festival since 1998, said that he admires many of the poets who performed at the Festival this year. “Thomas Lux is hilarious; C.K. Williams is as smart as he is tall, and Amiri Baraka is magisterial as well as controversial these days,” he said.
Silbergeld added,“Amiri Baraka is always interesting to see.... Sometimes he also performs with a live jazz/reggae band which is definitely something to see.”
He said, “My favorite aspect of the festival is the genuine passion that everyone has there for creative expression.”