NJPAC and Dodge Foundation announce ambitious new poetry partnership

by JAY LUSTIG

COURTESY OF NJPAC

Participants in the Jan. 24 event at NJPAC announcing a major expansion of the Dodge Poetry program included, from left, NJPAC president and CEO John Schreiber, Newark mayor Ras J. Baraka, NJPAC executive producer Dave Rodriguez, Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, Baba Don Babatunde of The Last Poets, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation poetry creative officer Ysabel González, Felipe Luciano of The Last Poets, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation president and CEO Tanuja Dehne, and poet Tyehimba Jess.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center have announced an initiative that will offer poetry programs throughout 2024 in various Newark locations, and culminate in the 2024 edition of the biennial Dodge Poetry Festival, which will take place primarily at NJPAC, Oct. 17-19.

The Dodge Foundation announced last month that it is moving its headquarters to Newark. The Dodge Poetry Festival is North America’s largest poetry event.

The initiative’s first program will take place this week, with poetry incorporated into the concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of jazz drummer and composer Max Roach that is scheduled for Jan. 26 at NJPAC.

Among the many other offerings to come will be a screening of a movie about poet Nikki Giovanni, “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” March 27 at NJPAC; a project in which young people will share stories and thoughts about social justice issues alongside poets, created by NJPAC in partnership with Rutgers University-Newark’s MFA program in creative writing; and virtual events that will focus on the use of poetry to advance positive social change.

Also, poetry readings will be featured in NJPAC’s free, annual, summertime Sounds of the City series.

The Last Poets (from left, Abiodun Oyewole, Felipe Luciano and Baba Don Babatunde).

The Dodge Foundation and NJPAC announced the initiative, jointly, Jan. 24 at NJPAC. Newark mayor Ras J. Baraka, who is also a poet, gave a brief speech and read “Digging Max” — a poem about Max Roach written by his father, the late poet and activist Amiri Baraka. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tyehimba Jess gave a dynamic reading of his own “A Black Man’s Prayer.” The Last Poets — a group that combines poetry with music, and has been influential to both poets and rappers for decades — performed as well (see video below).

“We have three goals with the Dodge Poetry program,” said Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation president and CEO Tanuja Dehne. “First, to mobilize communities and fuel movements for social change. To amplify poet activists who challenge and reframe existing narratives and forms. And third, to create spaces for empathy, healing and repair, for individuals who have experienced systemic racism.

“Poetry is a catalyst for social change.”

“The great thing about poetry (is) it’s an art form that is available to just about everybody,” said NJPAC president CEO John Schreiber. “There is no barrier to entry. If you can find a pencil, you can potentially be a poet. And if you can write a poem, you are able to tell the story of your life, to share your experiences in a way that will resonate beyond yourself. You can point out injustices. You can call for reform. You can lament the past and propose new ideas for the future in a way that will make people sit up and listen.

“Our whole intent here — and, I know, Dodge’s — our work in education, is to amplify our students’ voices, to encourage them to tell their authentic stories, and to give them the skills that will ensure those stories will be heard. … Poetry is an art form that is easily delivered offstage and into schools and church basements and libraries and parks. And easy to practice, even if you don’t have a piano or tap shoes or a turntable.

“If your goal is to ensure equitable access to the arts, if your ideal is to harness the arts as a catalyst for change … well, poetry is a terrific place to start.”

For more information and updates, visit njpac.org/dodgepoetry or grdodge.org/our-work/dodge-poetry.

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