New Jersey’s got a great poetry tradition, both in terms of individuals and institutions.
If you’re talking great poets, let’s talk New Jersey poets Walt Whitman and Williams Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, for starters, and let’s add such current luminaries as Robert Pinsky (born, raised and educated in N.J.), Paul Muldoon and C.K. Williams and Yusef Komunyakaa (all three teach at Princeton), National Book Award winner Gerald Stern of Lambertville, and other outstanding Jersey-based poets including B.J. Ward, Maria Gillan and the great Joe Weil (sprung fully formed from the loins of Elizabeth, N.J.)
If you’re talking about poetry, how about the spectacular Geraldine R. Dodge Festival – and a much smaller event called the Delaware Valley Festival, held yearly in two small towns, Frenchtown and Stockton, along the Delaware River.
I started the festival back in 1998 when then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky agreed to be the featured poet, joined by New Jersey poets (including Weil and my friend, the poet Charles H. Johnson) associated with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The festival’s debut was a huge success — and we were off and running, as subsequent festival featured the likes of Louise Gluck (who became our nation’s poet laureate herself a few years later), Pulitzer winner Muldoon, Stern, Diane Wakoski, Gillan, Thomas Lux, Stephen Dobyns, Pinsky again (for the 10th anniversary) and, last year, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer winner the great Rita Dove.
As my life has taken a new direction I’ve decided to end my involvement with the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, handing over the reins to the capable hands of Frenchtown-based poet Skye van Saun, who will continue to work on with my talented friends and colleagues Keith Strunk and Laura Swanson of River Union Stage.
One of my last acts as coordinator of the event was to recruit this year’s featured poet, Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Schultz.
On the bill with Schultz are New Jersey poets Cat Doty and Linda Radice. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Seating is limited and first-come, first-served. For more information, call 908-996-3685 or visit riverunionstage.org.
Why am I writing about this now? Because the 13th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival will take place Friday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m., at Prallsville Mills in Stockon, N.J. If you’re anywhere near New Jersey, it’s practically a can’t-miss event if you’re a lover of poetry and literature.
And, yes, I know I misspelled “festival” as “festive(al)” in the title of this post. That’s what’s known as poetic license!
What’s a laureate? The word comes from the Middle English, by way of Latin, and it all derives from the practice of honoring or recognizing someone’s great achievement by crowning the person with a wreath of laurel.
Dove? Well, of course, it’s a symbol of peace, and recently I found myself remembering a line from good old Sir Thomas Malory: “And anon there came in a dove at a window, and in her mouth there seemed a little censer of gold, and therewithal there was such a savoir as all the spicery of the world had been there.”
That’s from “Le Morte d’Arthur,” which really has nothing to do with the poet I’m about to write about, but it’s my way of finally getting to the point and announcing that this year’s 12th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival will feature former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove.
She’s one of our greatest poets, and she’ll give a public reading on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m. at the beautifully restored Prallsville Mills in Stockton, N.J., a small town nestled along the Delaware River in Hunterdon County, N.J., about an hour from Philadelphia and about 90 minutes from New York City.
I started this event, and coordinate it with my friends Keith Strunk and Laura Swanson of the River Union Stage theater group in Frenchtown, N.J. Details about tickets and other information — including plans for two book signings — will be announced in late spring/early summer. Meanwhile, though, mark your calendars. You can read and hear samples of Rita Dove’s poetry at the Academy of American Poets Web site (www. poets.org) or her own home page at University of Virginia ( http://people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/).
Rita will join an impressive list of poets featured at previous Delaware Valley Poetry Festivals, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Gluck, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon, National Book Award winner Gerald Stern, acclaimed poets Thomas Lux, Stephen Dobyns, Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Diane Wakoski, and many of New Jersey’s finest homegrown poets including Charles H. Johnson, B.J. Ward and Joe Weil.
This past October, we shifted gears a bit, and featured nine outstanding younger poets recommended by some of the poets listed above. It was an memorable weekend of amazingly skillful, intelligent and passionate writing and readings by artists with an wide array of backgrounds and styles but a shared gift of being able to move people with their words. Google the names of any of these rising poetry stars — Peter Covino, Janet Foxman, Khalil Murrell, Metta Sama, Matthew Siegel, Lonnie Manns, Jose Rodriguez, Michelle Lerner and Brian Trimboli — and you’re in for a treat.
And while you’re at it, visit the Web site of River Union Stage, where there’s a link to the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, with more information and more links to poems by Robert Pinsky, Louise Gluck, Paul Muldoon and the other great poets who have preceded Rita Dove on the truly remarkable list of artists who’ve joined us here to bring great poetry to the wilds of western New Jersey.