A reading of their own
Perhaps the most underrated feature of the dodge festival was the variety of open readings that went out throughout the grounds.
For those not familiar with the lingo, these are sessions that allow anyone and everyone to get up and read their own material. You might thing that love of craft would inspire the high and mighty named poets to stroll over for a listen. Indeed most of the amateur poets who sign up to read live with the expectation and vague hope that their work might get heard and they become discovered by their heroes in the craft. But alas, few poets of note bother to attend, and these only because they have been assigned to monitor the operations for the festival organizers.
This year LIPS editor and poet Laura Boss got this task. To be fair, Boss and her compatriot Maria Gillan, have built an empire on the backs of Northern New Jersey open readings, providing space and opportunities through various book stores so that unknown poets might get known.
Not all open readings at the Dodge are authorized. In the past, rouge groups have set up readings of their own in whatever available space they could find. One year, we located ourselves on the bank of the canal, shouting to each other to be heard while swatting at the hordes of mosquitoes that preferred our blood to our poetry.
A less formal, but authorized version -- complete with sound system -- operated out of the gazebo near the food court. By this means unsuspecting citizens of Wordstock were forced to digest pounds of poetry along with their chicken burritos.
Open readings in book stores, libraries and other such places are usually tedious affairs, endurance tests for the most durable poetry-lover. In them, the audience gets assaulted with every sort of verbal abuse, but none quite living up to the Supreme Court definition of fighting words. Many so-called professional poets recall too vividly their struggle to find distinction among the slush pile of oral recitation. They refuse to return to this world to be reminded of the pain they suffered during their long years among the common folk. Other well-known poets simply do not appreciate the virtues of bad poetry and refuse to suffer through the long hours or sift through shit to come across nugget they are not likely to find.
For me, open reading reveal the real consciousness of the artistic public, and threads here often better reflect the trends than do their more polished counterparts in the big tents. While I have in the past taken my place among the legions of bad poets to ripple off my poor efforts, I declined to join this year's open, leaving that pleasure to Sharon as she represented our family.
Despite her being published in some of New Jersey's better literary magazines, Sharon remained largely undiscovered. So when she read her poem about the poor in Paterson, people stirred and stared, for that moment treating her as if management had snuck in a ringer from one of the other tends. One of the photographers pulled her aside after her reading to complement her. Indeed, someone else stopped her the next day along one of the gravel paths to tell her how much he admired her poem. But alas, fame is indeed fleeing and she returned home Sunday night, still undiscovered by the masters of her craft.