‘Wordstock’: Dodge Poetry Festival Returns

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

How did you first discover poetry? Was it in class, or a book at the library, or through creating a work all your own? Every two years, the Dodge Poetry Festival returns with a mission: to introduce poetry in a different way.

“It’s the only art where the expectation…that you be able to analyze it, is put before your personal connection,” says Dodge Poetry Festival Director Martin Farawell. “Most other arts that people have a lifetime connection with, they experience and engage in it, it moves them, and then they study it.”

So the Dodge Poetry Festival takes an alternate approach. “It is this decidedly non-academic, non-professional-oriented, very open, very kind of warm, relaxed environment.” So much so that it’s been affectionately dubbed “The Woodstock of Poetry” and, more poetically, “Wordstock.”

The Dodge Poetry Festival was created nearly 30 years ago and has grown to become the largest poetry event in North America.

The four-day festival kicks off with Teacher Day. That means educators l head to Newark for a day of readings, classes and conversations–with the likes of 3-time U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco.

Mercedes Mulligan is an ELA and ESL teacher at the Robert Fulton Annex School. She met Blanco at a previous Dodge Poetry Festival and credits his work with teaching her students about both their Cuban heritage and the English language.

“It’s not a novel, it’s shorter,” explains Mulligan. “Here they are learning about their own country through Richard Blanco’s words.”

Access to contemporary poets and their works is one of Blanco’s favorite things about this festival. ‘’I never got to read a living poet until I started my masters writing program, so that kind of thing–knowing that poetry is relevant, that there’re people still writing, that there’re poets still writing today, that it’s an art that’s continued to evolve.”

“The heart of the festival is direct encounters with living poets. So it’s not about the history of poetry necessarily, it’s not about career building, or careerism or professional advice. It’s about deep immersion in the art as a living, vital contemporary art.”

And it’s that experience that’s attracting life-long poetry-lovers and creating new ones–including an ardent supporter in The Dodge Foundation’s own President and CEO, Chris Daggett.

“Martin and I kid. I was one of those people who was not that exposed to poetry, and my exposure was the high school teacher would say, “Don’t you get it? Don’t you get it?!” explains Daggett. “There’s no question about it, I am a convert.”

Last year thousands of people from all over the country attended the poetry festival, and Dodge staff have spent the last two years prepping in anticipation of this weekend being more of the same.