Tag Archives: poetry

Dodge Poetry Festival 2014


Poetry is not my comfort zone. It never fully clicked with me. I could read it and interpret it for class, but I rarely enjoyed it as a student. The exception was epic and narrative poetry that told stories, which is where I’m at home. So when I decided to attend the Dodge Poetry Festival this past week, well, I don’t know what I was thinking.

Actually, I do. I wanted a jolt, a kick in the pants to push me to both appreciate poetry better and use it in my classroom more. And what a jolt it was! Dodge brings in the best poets in the entire country for four days of readings and discussions. And part of what makes Dodge special is the both the diversity and level of the talent that is brought in.

The day began with a “sampler” of fifteen poets reading one or two of their poems. Of course not every poem clicked with me, but a few of them gave me visceral reactions. I actually jolted back in my seat at Brendan Constantine’s “Dementia, My Darling,” a poem imagining his mother’s mind unraveling with dementia. Saeed Jones and Rachel Wiley read pieces that also gut-punched me.

The first session I attended was a panel of four poets who were also actively teaching. This session had a mix of useful suggestions for engaging students with poetry, entertaining stories, and a few utterly impractical perspectives. By this I mean I was reminded how different teaching an undergraduate poetry workshop is from teaching general education 7th grade language arts. Simply telling students there are no rules and to do whatever they want might work with really, really advanced students, but not for squirrely 12 year olds.

Then I attended a panel on women in poetry. I was one of 5 or 6 men in a crowd of about 75. I was pretty uncomfortable, especially when the session began with Jan Beatty’s “Shooter,” a poem about shooting all the men who ever harmed her. But I think it’s okay to be uncomfortable. After women spent centuries being the object (rather than the subject) of dominant white male poetic culture, I think I can sit in a poetry reading for an hour and a quarter and feel marginalized. It was a good perspective-shifter.

Maybe the best session was with Robert Pinsky, who I saw back in 2004 or so when I was a college student. His advice was practical and honest for teachers, and his sense of fun and gravitas was perfectly balanced. . He also created the Favorite Poem Project, a site of videos with  people reading their favorite poems aloud.

The final reading was by Yusef Komunyakaa. He is a brilliant poet who thinks about poetry and sound a lot. As far as being able to use his advice in the classroom, well, it was all rather abstract. A lot of “I think of sound…and tone… and beauty” type commentary. Still, it was a pleasure to sit two rows from one of America’s preeminent poets and hear him read.

The Dodge Poetry Festival only happens once every two years. It brings some of America’s most beautiful words to the heart of Newark, one of America’s ugliest places. I hope to go again in 2016, and in the meantime, become better engaged with poetry.

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Is Poetry Relevant?

This past week, I took a professional development workshop. In it, we teachers learned a variety of ways to get students reading and writing, and maybe even engaging some critical thinking skills. (I’m not being sarcastic. It actually was a helpful PD session, for once). One of the best activities involved using poetry– perhaps the least left-brain form of writing– to engage critical thinking skills. All in all, a thought-provoking activity, but the thoughts it provoked in me went in a different direction. I found myself asking:

Is poetry relevant?

Of the poems we read as examples, a couple were familiar to me, but most were not. They were all suitable for middle/high school students. I realized as we did this activity that I haven’t really read much poetry in… years? Ok, not true. I will read narrative poems; I reread The Iliad and The Aeneid a couple years back, and I’ve been celebrating October with some Poe (Poe-try?). But as for just sitting down with lyric poems and working with them…it just hasn’t been something I’ve been drawn to. Between reading fiction to study the craft, and reading fiction for pleasure, and reading history to broaden my knowledge, and reading student essays to eat and pay my mortgage, reading poems hasn’t felt all that pressing. But simply because I’ve neglected it doesn’t mean it’s not important. Some people neglect going to the dentist for a decade, that doesn’t mean dentists are irrelevant. But still, I ask:

Is poetry relevant?

I chose my question carefully. I’m not asking “Is poetry important/powerful/worthwhile/beautiful/interesting/useful?” I don’t think most people would argue that poetry has NO place in today’s world. There is a place for everything in this world: punch cards, speakeasies, the steam engine, the longbow. That place is a museum. These things, like poetry, all serve a purpose. But I wonder, in today’s world:

Is poetry relevant?

Our instructor told us about an assignment he would give his students. He worked with tough, urban kids from Atlantic City, and asked them to think of the dirtiest, foulest word they knew, and tell him. Of course, the kids started spewing all the profanity they knew in an attempt to answer the question (and to shock him), but he just shook his head. “Those words aren’t dirty. You use them all the time. They’re part of your everyday vocabulary. I would say that the dirtiest word you know is ‘poetry.’  Try this tonight for homework: go to five people you know and say ‘I want to talk about poetry’ and tell me how they react tomorrow.” The next day, the kids returned with stories of strange, uncomfortable looks and friends and family making a point to steer clear. I think this story illustrates something important: Poetry isn’t just obscure to most people; it makes people uncomfortable.

So now, having not answered the question in the least, I leave it to you, world:

Is poetry relevant?

In an essay of at least 1 word, defend your position on this issue. This counts as a test grade for the first marking period.


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Fantasy Metal Surprise

There’s rain on the mountain
A white frost on the moors
It’s an epoch of eternity
Waters touch the holy shore
It’s a land of mystery
The world of unseen eyes
You can feel the shadow of a princess
She waits for you inside

The guardians of God play the pawns
Beg for mercy – hail the queen
Princess of the Dawn

In the war of the dragons
Young blood ran its course
They fell to his blade
The knight Iron Horse
A forgotten priest
Disappearing in the haze
A chamber of vestal virgins
Twilight is her slave

The Wizard of Oz moved the pawns
Life for satan – dust to dust
Princess of the Dawn

On the day of the testament
The seventh moon was raging fire
Heaven cried for the sacrifice
The midnight sun was rising higher
The Beauty and the Beast
Lies in her royal crypt
Her kiss is bitter sweet
Death upon her lips

The Holy Grail held the pawns
Kings and bishops bow to grace
Princess of the Dawn
The guardians of God play the pawns
Beg for mercy – hail the queen
Princess of the Dawn

A new day dawns for heaven and earth
A first sunbeam is killing the night
Once upon a time for ever more
The gloom with the spirit of that Lady in White
Princess – Princess – Princess of the Dawn
Princess – Princess – Princess of the Dawn
Princess – Princess – Princess of the Dawn
Princess – Princess – Princess of the Dawn

As a poem of the fantastic, I think it’s…well, fantastic! Terrific imagery, a sense of mystery, and repeated motifs.

This “poem” is the lyrics to the song “Princess of the Dawn,” by the German metal band Accept. I just saw Accept in concert last night (with fellow German metal band Kreator– I am still in pain) and was struck by the imaginative lyrics beneath all those churning guitars and leather pants.

Fantasy metal is a whole subgenre of metal (one which I’m sure I’ll be exploring a lot) but Accept is generally not known for it. They’re more known for their thrasher tracks, like “Restless and Wild,” and fist-pumping, S&M suggestive tracks like “Balls to the Wall,” “London Leatherboys,” and the funny/nasty “Dogs on Leads.” But “Princess of the Dawn” is certainly a foray into the speculative.

It’s not a perfect song. The mention of the Wizard of Oz is unexpected– and to me, intrusive. Also, there’s no clear narrative thread, though I could see the potential for one. Instead, it’s more a random collection of fantasy images. But how can you not love “white frost on the moors” and “the world of unseen eyes”?

Give the song a listen. The lead singer, Udo, has a voice that isn’t easy to warm up to. Imagine if Brian Johnson (AC/DC), was a cat getting his tail stepped on. Still, it has a great main riff, with some awesome breaks in there.


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Adam Knight

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