A dream come true?
Despite the fact that the Dodge Poetry Festival had started in 1988, we did not get to it until the early 1990s -- after Bill Moyers featured it in a PBS television special.
While poetry had gone in and out of fashion over the previous decades since the Beats made it hip, we did not believe anything could generate an event so significant as this or bring together so many budding scribes. While we did not encounter the half million that had attended the 1969 rock festival, Woodstock, the 15,000 that attended the poetry event seemed exhorbitantly largel.
During our first year at the Dodge, we walked through the woods thunderstruck -- pausing frequently to suck in the clean air not so readily available in Hudson County, and to ponder the historic structures that saddled either side of the equally historic Morris Canal. We did not miss the significance of this canal's once stretching from this place to its mouth in Jersey City.
We wandered up dirt and garvel paths, pausing to peer into barnyzrds or gardens, even took the long walk along the stretch of lake to the point upon which a traditional Lenape Indian village sat.
Still more impressive was the organization of the event, the tents set up in spots behind buildings, the parade of famous names in poetry who spoke before rapt audiences, about craft, about creation. In that first year, we law poetic legends reading side by side with poetry's version of "the common man." We got to listen to, to talk with and to ask question of poets we had only previously read in books.
While the event lasted four days, the first day of each festival -- a Thursday -- and part of the second day were dedicated to students and teachers, as bus loads of potential poets rolled into the site for special instruction, kids that came from 33 states, some as far away as California.
They listened to poets and writers talking about story telling and poetry dialogues. This year, they met legendws like Robert Bly, Robert Hass, Gerald Stern, even Amiri Baraka (though it was not until Saturday that Baraka dropped his literary bomb that would lead the Governor of the state to call for his resignation as poet Laureate). In our wandering through festival on Saturday and Sunday this year, we noticed that many of the kids and their teachers stayed on for the whole weekend, displaying a remarkable thirst for the art, seeking to learn it from those who did it best.