By Rich Villar
This is the time of year when it’s too cold to leave the house without a hoodie, but not cold enough to blast your landlord out of his pants with heat complaints. I love this time of year because it means more of those chilly grey days that stir the metaphors resting on the edges of my brain. But once every two years, it also means that the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation is getting ready to put on the kind of show poets love the best: large, unwieldy, and full of other poets.
I will be taking a much-needed respite from my day job to go play with the other poets at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, site of this year’s Dodge Poetry Festival. They are moving it from NJ’s Waterloo Village, a significantly more down tempo historical village and grist mill in Sussex County, to the city of Newark, and one of the most gorgeous concert venues in the United States. I’m perfectly okay with this, since NJPAC is also located down the street from Don Pepe’s, one of the best Spanish restaurants in Jersey. And I mean Spanish as in SPANISH, de España, with as much paella and tomfoolery as a roomful of poets can muster, which is a lot. Of course I go to events like these because it’s nice to have one’s colleagues together in a semi-intellectual/literary setting, but there is something more basic in my need to be in these spaces listening to poetry with people I actually enjoy being with. I need to be a poet among poets, but I always enjoy being human first. Which is cool too, since poetry humanizes, as my friend Martin Espada is fond of saying.
So, I will be blogging from the festival, the largest poetry festival in North America, which will include a musical interlude by one of my favorite jazz salseros, Bobby Sanabria, as well as the participation of the acclaimed Afro-Cuban poet Nancy Morejon. There are more Latino poets participating this year than in the last festival…which is to say they’ve gone from one to three. That caveat aside, the diversity of this lineup is quite eye-opening, and I think it may represent an interesting and long-overdue shift in how we perceive American poetry and poets, both in terms of demographics and aesthetics. We’ll see what happens.