Welcome to la la land
Once, when we first began going to the Dodge Poetry Festival, we viewed it as the ultimate haven from the dangerous of the wild woods of our chaotic lives where we could find rest and inspiration.
Over time, we learned out much of an illusion the Dodge festival was, and how much of a welfare state for scribes the foundation behind it was as well.
In many uncomfortable ways, this Wordstock in the woods gave reign to a host of intellectual snobs, who lorded over the more ordinary and more practical people that made up the world outside. And the festival gave license to bash the crass masses without the usual threat of violence or the walls of their ivory towers campuses to protect them.
Here, the cultural elite -- fat with their self-professed superior value and tastes -- boasted of Byron and Shelly, Shakespeare and Keats, name dropping the way Allied bombers did Normandy as if in anticipation of a ground assault on -- as Robert Pinsky teased in his poem 9/11 -- the lowbrows.
Here in these woods, such characters carried on the way rock stars and sports stars did on the outside, flocked around by curious faces, young and old, with their autographs in demand and their voices sought out.
As pompous as some poets were, the festival delighted us -- even after we suffered through the inflated egos of those accepted as Dodge poets or invited to read in one of the tents. No poet I knew intimately ever read in the big tent so I escaped that massive inflation.
Most of the poets we knew still struggled to survive, holding down a job or two as they scratched out verse in few moments between shifts. For this multitude and the hordes of others that purchased tickets as students or seniors or -- like us -- ordinary citizens of Wordstock Nation -- Waterloo Village with its mass of poetic hopefuls still had a magic defied the pumped up psyches of poetic superstars. Few moments in my life equal that last Dodge when Ginsberg read -- months before his death.
Like any other community, The Dodge has its rouges, its saints and its needy. And seeing clusters of aspiring poets huddled under trees or on vacant platforms defies easy definition. Writers like me attended college to find such situations, temporarily taking shelter beneath the shadow of the ivory towers others would take up more permanently. And for short times on campuses, we stirred up the embers of our imaginations and believed we could set fire to the literary world with our works.
At the Dodge, this feeling predominated. It did not have to hide in corners of the campus library, struggling to keep sane over the brawling jocks pretending study. We did not need to feel shame at our proclaiming ourselves poets (although it is lack of talent that now makes me decline that title, not shame.)
For three or four days every two years, this place exploded with potential, and words of significant weight fell upon our ears and shook our mental worlds so that by that sad end when the big tent shut down its lights we felt transformed, as sad as the hippies perhaps in leaving 1969 Woodstock, pondering how we might keep this amazing flame alive in our hearts until the next Dodge two years later.
Like drug addicts, we would even suffer those souls who brandished their Dodge badges of distinction, nodding at their most recently published titles, for the brief but intense pleasure of hearing their reading. We even suffered gladly the foolish lectures such as "life as poet" to dabble in the more rewarding ones that talked about craft.
Yet in the end, poetry drew us, not the egos, not the lectures, and we dipped deep into the glorious well, letting the words flow over us, our ears wide to catch a few drops of wisdom and music -- in the vain hope that some would stick inside of us, germs of future creations we might later call our own.