The Dodge Poetry Festival is a magical event that happens every 2 years. It is the nation’s largest poetry festival, and just as amazing as it sounds. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to Dodge my freshman year of college (aka 2008). In 2008, I was a baby wading in the poetry pool for the very first time. I hadn’t taken any poetry courses yet, only a few weeks of Intro to Creative Writing, and I barely knew a sestina from a sonnet. I wanted to attend Dodge because it seemed like the cool thing to do. (I also had a crush on my Creative Writing professor. What can I say, I was a blossoming baby dyke.) Going to Dodge changed my life, and really introduced me to the fact that poetry was much more than a bunch of dead people’s poems in some dusty ol’ textbooks. For the first time, I realized that poetry was a way of life.
God help me, here’s a terrible video I created in reaction to my experiences at Dodge. The quality isn’t stellar, but my excitement and disbelief at the magical poetry world is. I start talking about halfway through the video. (I’m sorry it’s so long. I had no editing technique back in 2008.)
On Friday, I was fortunate enough to be able to take my students on a field trip to the Dodge Poetry Festival. I, along with my cooperating teacher and 2 other teachers, took the literary journal members, as well as the majority of my creative writing class, to the festival for a fun-filled day of poetry. Although I had known the Dodge really influenced my life in 2008, despite the fact that it was my 3rd trip to Dodge, I naïvely didn’t anticipate my students being so impacted by the trip.
Going to Dodge for the time as an educator was an experience like no other. I cannot even express how rewarding it was to introduce a new generation of poets to a love of poetry. I could not stop smiling as I watched my group of 5 students watch in amazement as incredibly talented poets took the stage. In a manner of seconds, they transformed into five year olds on Christmas morning hanging out with Santa Claus. (Is that a good enough expression of how excited they were?!)
The students were BLOWN AWAY by the poets, and the fact that they were seeing them “live and in person.” After the first session, my students couldn’t stop chattering and asking questions. “What was your favorite part?” “Did you hear that one poem?” “I can’t believe (poet) did that! Have you ever done that?” After each session, the questions became more and more evolved. “What do you think her writing process is like?” “How does so-and-so cope with writer’s block?” “I really liked the form/ rhyme/ word choice/ imagery/ etc!” My students were SO excited by the end of the day…it was remarkable.
I also loved loved LOVED to see the reaction of my students to non-traditional performance poets such as Taylor Mali and Kurtis Lamkin. They were absolutely floored by how much the poetry presentation affected the meanings of the various poems. It really helped my students see that poetry can be performed, and that poetry performances weren’t just “finger snapping and wearing berets in dimly lit rooms” as they had predicted it would be the day before.
Taylor Mali also performed this poem at Dodge and my students really loved it.
My creative writing students have been out of this world all year so far, but something has changed in them. When they were sharing their weekly assignment today, quite a few of the students stood up and PERFORMED their own poetry for the class. My students are brimming with excitement and a love for writing and discovering new poetry. Without Dodge, this wouldn’t have been possible.
For me, Dodge has renewed my desire to write. I left the festival feeling as if I had taken in a new breath of air. I haven’t written poetry since May (!!), but the festival, as well as seeing the excitement in my students after being introduced to the poetry world, really inspired me to make the time to write and connect with not only my words, but myself as well. I am so grateful to have been able to attend Dodge for a third time, and even more grateful to have been able to help introduce a new generation of poets to the wonders of not only the poetry world, but to the amazing Dodge Poetry Festival as well.
Sooo here’s a poem I wrote on Friday night. I dedicate this to my students.
“But Miss B, how do poets PERFORM?”
How do you think they perform?
“With berets! And finger-snapping.
AND REALLY DARK ROOMS WITH CANDLES.”
I look away from the stage
and glance at their adolescent eyes.
Yesterday they knew everything,
and today they know nothing.
They sit, wide-eyed and silent,
mesmerized by the tantalizing words
of poetry greats.
Tears enter my eyes as Taylor Mali
declares how he will change
the world one 8th grader at a time,
and, as I watch the future watch today’s greats,
I know that I, too, will change the world,
one poetry reading at a time.