Monday, October 04, 2004

Remembering Myself at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

I have not journalled lately. I have been pre-occupied with all manner of things, the election, the unfathomable appeal of George W. Bush to, allegedly, over half of those in the US who are likely to vote, the spreading of mulch and cleaning of neglected flower beds. But mostly I have been pre-occupied with the raising of money for my organization and the slow pace of that and the great need. In the midst of that worry, mostly unarticulated to those around me, I have missed writing deadlines and writing to this venue (is that what the web universe is?)

So this weekend I did what a poet must do every other year. I went to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. I am refreshed and renewed. The next few entries will be about the Festival, who was there, what I heard, what it felt like. To document for myself and to share with those of who could not go or did not know of the possiblility. To share with those of you who doubt it is possible to sit and listen poets and poetries for three whole days.

Muck and Mire
On Thursday it rained vigorously in central New Jersey. I was not there to witness High School Student day at the Dodge on Duke Farm, but I am told the sight of 1,000 teenagers up to their ankles in mud was a stunning and unnerving vision of exuberant, ambulatory dirty laundry.

On Friday I arrived in time to hear Yusef Kumunyakaa’s conversation on the Craft of Poetry. He is a Vietnam veteran, used to be narrowly described as a Vietnam War poet but he is much more. Currently he is working on a theatrical rendering of Gilgamesh and a libretto for an opera on the Trial of Standing Bear.

He talked about the work ethic of a poem (to paraphrase):

His father was a carpenter. As a teenager he worked beside him, often resentfully, but picked up his father’s craftly habits. His father measured over and over. Measuring the old fashion way, nail string pull. Nail, string pull. And when he would cut the piece of wood would fit flush and true.

Mr. Kumunyakaa stated that it was the same with poems. Go back to it again and again, evaluating, cutting. Measuring each word, and the one before and the one after and then cutting, especially (for him) cutting adjectives, because they don’t necessarily say anything.

That’s it for now, except listening to Mr. Kumunyakaa, I have resolved to read Pablo Neruda in a comprehensive way.

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