Festival, virtual

Coronavirus safety protocols continue to affect my teaching at the college and life in general–also, the life of the shared and diverse arts community, near and far. But arts folk are creative folks, by nature problem solvers and think-outside-the-boxers. This weekend, I have been attending the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival via technological interface (my laptop); it has so far been as mixed and as enlightening an experience as teaching has been for me this semester.

It has been years since I have been at the Dodge in person. Teaching and tutoring are busy for me in October, and I have been free to travel to the festival only once since its move to Newark in 2010. Times have changed, and I have changed. I’m taking notice of what I like and do not particularly like about the virtual platform of the 2020 festival. Bear in mind that I am only marginally tech-savvy and not a person who’s wedded to the screen (television or computer or phone).

First impression, from the “opening ceremony” and an initial panel, is that I like the closeups of the poets–something I seldom had the chance to see when in the crowded auditoriums or tents of past Dodge festivals. As an older attendee, I have to admit I appreciate hearing the readers more clearly. It’s also nice not to have to wait for stumbling about on stage as presenters navigate the stairs, step over wires, chat with emcees, or shuffle through papers and books marked with post-it notes.

There’s a downside, too, of course. I cannot see the holistic figures of the poets, their attire and body language, their posture on the stage. I do not feel the attentive excitement of fellow audience members, hear appreciative murmurs, applause, or the rare but spicy snide remarks. The readings seem somewhat static and prepared (which they have been). The festival thus loses some of its remarkable spontaneity. I suppose I’m referring here to a lost physical community–but all of us should be accustomed to that feeling by now.

On the second night of the event, Pádraig Ó Tuama moderated a panel discussion on the theme “Imagine a New Way” with Martín Espada, Vievee Francis, and Carolyn Forché. The poems were intensely engaging, the readings remarkable; and the discussion among the poets and moderator managed to feel lively and immediate. Oh, notes to take, things I must read, ideas that go ‘pop’ in my head…

The takeaway after day two is that my sense of skepticism about online performance and conference events has begun to wane a bit. True, there is less chance of bumping into colleagues and making connections with fellow poets while grabbing a snack, and the bookstore browsing is not nearly as lovely an experience when the bookstore is online. True, there is much I miss about the hubbub and the buzz of past festival experiences.

Yet it turns out I rather like watching and listening to poets while sitting home in my pajamas and drinking decent, not-overpriced wine in the company of no one but my cat. In fact, at present, the scenario rather suits my mood. And I will be ‘tuning in’ tomorrow.

Arts festival

Early autumn is a lovely time for festivals. The city of Easton, PA–situated on the Delaware River–is hosting its 15 annual Riverside Festival of the Arts. There will be music, art shows, food, etc. on September 22 and 23.


At noon on the 23rd, I will be reading poetry with Diane Lockward at the amphitheater. Next to the river: a perfect site to read from my book Water-Rites.


The link is here. Or check the Events tab above.



100 Thousand Poets, and change.

 Reading, Pennsylvania has had its ups and downs. Recently, it made the national news for the sad distinction of being the poorest city in the USA. But like many struggling cities, it also has its share of citizens who are devoted to keeping the city not merely afloat and economically viable–a tough task in tough times–but also vibrant culturally. Where rents are cheap, artists can find studio space. Colleges can expand because there’s vacant space for parking garages and buildings ripe for re-tooling. Reading’s been host to quite a few poetry events lately, as a result of the aforesaid artist spaces and college expansions. (See GoggleWorks for one example of studio & performance space: http://www.goggleworks.org).

I spent the day at the Reading venue of the global event “100 Thousand Poets for Change.” On this overcast but mild day, there was a little disorganization at first, not uncommon for new festivals…but the  poets found one another, and before long there was a lively little crowd seated and standing near a performance space for what was billed as a series of featured readings with musical interludes but which became an open reading with music as background. And train sounds as background. And car and crowd sounds, and it didn’t matter because the audience members were paying attention to the readers.

At intervals, I wandered away and bought food from the vendors. Reading has some good ethnic food establishments, judging by the Vietnamese spring rolls and the falafel and such.

I sat on a park bench with my friend Marilyn Hazelton, a tanka poet and practitioner of haiku and haibun, and we discussed the young performance poets and the uses of structure in poetry and in life. We had a moment envying the young for simply being young and energetic, and then we spent a few more moments on what we’ve learned and the value of aging. Both of us are teachers, as are Craig Czury and Heather Thomas, two poets who were instrumental in putting the poetry aspect of today’s gathering together, so we also talked about teaching. Sometimes a quiet talk with a good friend revitalizes me. After our conversation, I felt energized enough to read a few more poems to the crowd. A man my son’s age shouted “Good stuff!”

All in all, a good way to spend the first Saturday of the autumn season.

Reading Reading

I love the wordplay inherent in presenting a poetry reading in Reading, PA: a Reading reading.

This Saturday, Reading is hosting on of the sites for a day-long, global poetry event called 100 Thousand Poets for Change. I’ll be reading around 5:30 pm (645 Penn St., if you are in the neighborhood, and you may want to bring a folding chair).

But by all means, come earlier and stay later: there will be music and poetry and other interesting goings-on all day.

Sat, September 24
100 Thousand Poets for Change and Street Music Festival
Courtyard and walking malls in the 600 block of Penn Street, Reading, PA

Sat, September 24
100Thousand Poets for Change
600 Block of Penn Street


The screech owls were very noisy at 5:45 am, so I couldn’t go back to sleep. Thank you, owls, for reminding me to post this notice about the reading.