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Greyhounds Wax Poetic at the Dodge Poetry Festival

Photo+featuring+Reporter%2C+Sara+Weidner+%28right%29+and+Poet%2C+Elizabeth+Alexander+%28left%29
Photo featuring Reporter, Sara Weidner (right) and Poet, Elizabeth Alexander (left)

Photo featuring Reporter, Sara Weidner (right) and Poet, Elizabeth Alexander (left)

Photo featuring Reporter, Sara Weidner (right) and Poet, Elizabeth Alexander (left)

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On a breezy October night, Moravian College students embarked on a journey to Newark, NJ., for the 30th anniversary of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

A total of 23 students, including Professor Hinnefeld’s Introduction to Creative Writing class, attended the trip hosted by the Zinzendorf Literary Society to what is known as the ‘Woodstock’ of poetry. The Dodge Poetry Festival is the largest poetry festival in North America, which was founded in 1986 and according to their website, has an average of 140,000 attendees annually.

The Festival is held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center with satellite locations that include readings at Military Park, Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral, Victoria Theater, First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church, and North Star Auditorium.

The Festival is a four day-long event with activities throughout each day starting at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 9:30 p.m. Moravian students arrived for the 7:00-9:15 p.m. portion of the day, which featured the concluding readings from members of the Academy of American Poets.

This year marked a significant moment in history for the Dodge Poetry Festival, as they have recently merged with the Academy of American Poets, which is in the process of moving from New York to Newark. “Newark is the new poetry capital of the United States,” said Festival Director Martin J. Farawell in his introductory speech.

The lineup of poets included all twelve chancellors of the Academy of American Poets: Elizabeth Alexander (the inaugural poet at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration),  Mark Doty, Linda Gregerson, Juan Felipe Herrera (the current U.S. Poet Laureate), Brenda Hillman, Jane Hirshfield, Khaled Mattawa, Marilyn Nelson, Alicia Ostriker, Alberto Ríos, Arthur Sze, and Anne Waldman.

While not everyone is a fan of poetry, no one can deny that these poets are among a select group of professionals who have dedicated their entire lives to their craft. Throughout the night each artist read 2-4 of their poems aloud to the audience.

Sophomore Keyshawn Griffith compared their poetry to contemporary poetry, noting the differences. “I believe that it lacked the emotion that the younger generation of poetry has. It was an older style of poetry, and those who performed were masters of their craft. I was expecting more of performance-based pieces. I still liked it for the fact that I saw masters of their craft onstage,” said Griffith.

Griffith was also able to obtain a signature from his favorite poet of the night, Marilyn Nelson. “I liked Nelson’s pieces that talked about her brother. Her poems dappled with ideas and topics of the struggles for minorities in this country. It was a topic that you most likely hear discussion more in younger generations, but it was done in that older style. She wrote a message of motivation in my journal to inspire me to keep going with my craft,” Griffith said.

A few of these poems discussed controversial issues such as Herrera’s poem, “i Will Lov U 4Ever, Orlando,” on the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, and Hirshfield’s poem about the Syrian refugee crisis. Others, like Alexander, Ostriker, Ríos, and Sze wrote about experiences reflecting their own lives.

After the poetry reading, students were able to buy the poets’ books from the Barnes and Noble Bookfair, and attend book signings with  the poets.

Overall, students found the experience to be engaging and stimulating.

Junior, Paige Hawk who attended the trip said, “It was great seeing so many people passionate about pursuing the art of poetry and ensuring its longevity.”

The trip, which is offered every two years at Moravian, should continue to be a tradition, junior Jonathan Fiore believes.

“I believe that this was an important event for the student body because it gave them the  opportunity to see poetry in a modern era and the influence it can have on everyday people,” said Fiore.  

The next Dodge Poetry Festival will occur in the Fall 2018 semester. Until then, Moravian students will continue to promote the art of poetry on campus with a spoken word poetry event, MoCo Speaks in the Spring 2017 hosted by the Zinzendorf Literary Society.

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