You don’t often hear poetry recited at press conferences, but New Jersey Performing Arts Center CEO and president John Schreiber treated reporters to Amiri Baraka’s Newark-set “The Lullabye of Avon Avenue,” Tuesday afternoon in the lobby of NJPAC’s Victoria Theater. And Martin Farawell read a portion of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”
Farawell — poetry director of the biennial Dodge Poetry Festival, details of which were being announced — noted that a line from “Leaves of Grass” was used on the first Dodge Poetry Festival poster, 30 years ago.
“It’s 30 years later, and it seems language is used less and less to stagger us with reminders of the miracles we are,” Farawell said. “Instead, we don’t have to look very far to be bombarded with language that is ugly and thoughtless. Just spend a few minutes searching the internet or watching television: Someone or some group is always insulting or bullying another. Sometimes it seems we’re too busy labeling, drawing boundaries, and picking fights, to listen to each other. And our word choices are so often sensational and inflammatory. It can leave you very disheartened about human nature.
“This is why we need poetry more than ever, and why so many people who came of age in the age of the internet are drawn to it. Poetry reminds us, our incredible gift of speech is also there to connect us.”
The 16th edition of the biennial Dodge Poetry Festival will take place at NJPAC — its primary home since 2010 — and other Newark venues, Oct. 20-23. As usual, the event — an initiative of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and the nation’s largest poetry festival — will feature some of the biggest names in poetry. The lineup will include U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera; former U.S. poet laureates Billy Collins, Kay Ryan and Robert Hass; Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder; Elizabeth Alexander, the inaugural poet at President Obama’s first inauguration; and many others.
For the first time, the Poets Forum of the Academy of American Poets — a series of readings and conversations traditionally held in New York — will take place in Newark, in conjunction with the festival.
Special events will focus on the organizations Kundiman, Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Warrior Writers and Brick City Voices, showcasing Asian-American, African-American, Latino, military-veteran and Newark-based writers, respectively. And a discussion titled “The Work to be Done: Poetry and Social Justice” will feature Herrera along with Martin Espada, Claudia Rankine and Katha Pollitt. Other events will focus on subjects such as “Silence Is Become Speech: The Emergence of Women’s Voices,” “Masks and Masculinity: Poetry and the Rituals of Men,” “Poetry and Storytelling,” and the poetry of the late Amiri Baraka and the late Galway Kinnell.
Though most of the readings will take place at NJPAC, many other Newark venues will host events as well, including the Newark Museum, Symphony Hall, the North Star Academy, First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church, and the Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art.