Poetry Festival Stirs Budding Bards

“’This is the beginning. Almost anything can happen.’ When I read this quote [by poet Billy Collins] after opening the program book of the Dodge Poetry Festival, it immediately sparked an idea for a poem,” said 10th grader Sydney. “It also made me think of the endless possibilities I have as a writer, a student, and—most of all—a person.”


Sydney’s insight alone would have been sufficient validation for English teacher Leah Umansky to organize the trip to the Festival, which took place in the Newark’s Downtown Arts District in New Jersey on October 8. The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, held in even-numbered years since 1986, immerses audiences and nearly 60 world-renowned poets in readings, discussions, and conversations focusing on poetry.


An essential component of the Festival is a series of special programs for high school students and teachers. More than 4,500 students and 2,000 teachers from throughout the country participate in conversations and readings designed specifically for them during the first two days of the Festival.


“For students to hear poets speak directly to them is a valuable experience,” said Ms. Umansky. “I attended the Festival while in high school and was really inspired by it; it’s part of the reason I became a poet—I was so taken and in awe of the poets I saw and their passion.”


York Prep students witnessed performances by poets Kwame Dawes, Martin Espada, and Michael Cirelli. “I enjoyed hearing ‘Tornado Child’ read by Kwame Dawes,” said Joey, an 11th grade student. “Martin Espada was another great poet who moved his body in rhythm with his poem, showing how deep and powerful poetry can be.”


Nathan, another 11th grader, said, “I don’t read a lot of modern poetry, and it was nice to hear some. I like the wide variety of style among the poets that we saw.”


“Michael Cirelli, a hip-hop poet, read from his new book The Situation: Jersey Shore Poems,” said fellow junior Amy. “I’d love to go back to the Dodge Poetry Festival.”