The 12th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival’s this weekend — Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m., at the historic Prallsville Mills along the Delaware River in Stockton, N.J.

Rita Dove
Rita Dove

The main attraction, of course, will be chance to hear and meet Rita Dove, two-time U.S. poet laureate and winner of the Pulitzer prize for poetry. In addition to reading from her work, Rita will sign books at two locations: Book Garden on Bridge Street in Frenchtown, N.J., at 3:30 p.m, and directly after the reading, right in the recently restored  sawmill where the reading will take place, sponsored by the Borders bookstore in nearby Flemington.

But here’s a special added attraction:  Laura Swanson and Keith Strunk, my ultra-talented friends and colleagues who are the principals of Frenchtown-based River Union Stage, will be staging a presentation based on a segment of Rita Dove’s latest book, “Sonata Mulattica,” which is based on the extraordinary life of George Bridgetower, a violin virtuoso to whom Beethoven initially dedicated the “Kreutzer” Sonata.

River Union Stage has partnered with me to stage the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival since 2006,  and in past years has performed a shor, theatrical treatment of a selected work by the featured poet as a curtain-warmer.  For Diane Wakoski’s Thanking My Mother for Piano Lessons, RUS created a film treatment of the poem with appropriate visuals and music.  For the 10th anniversary of the festival, featuring Robert Pinsky, RUS had a child actor, a 40-something actor and Robert himself in performance of To Television, representing Pinsky at different stages of his life, illuminated by the glow of a “television” throughout.

This year RUS, with considerable imput from Ms. Dove herself, will offer a theatrical interpretation of The Performer, a section from “Sonata Mulattica.” Starring will be Ryan Quinn, who performed in a previous RUS production of It’s A Wonderful Life.  He received his MFA from Yale School of Drama, and has since performed in numerous regional houses and off-Broadway with many Shakespeare credits under his belt.

Ryan Quinn
Ryan Quinn

It will be an extraordinary evening of poetry and theater this Saturday at Prallsville as the extraordinary Rita Dove adds her name to an impressive roster of poets who’ve come to our remote cultural outpost in western New Jersey: In addition to Pinsky and Wakoski, add the names of nationally acclaimed poets Louise Gluck, Paul Muldoon, Thomas Lux, Stephen Dobyns and Gerald Stern (of nearby Lambertville, N.J.) and other outstanding New Jersey-based poets including Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Charles H. Johnson, BJ Ward and the amazing Joe Weil.

Try to make it to Stockton, N.J., this Saturday night. And try to get there early. Since admission is free (N.B.: Donations are welcome to help offset production costs for the poetry reading series at a time when government funding for the arts has been trimmed or eliminated), seating is first-come and first-served. Lines of people were waiting to get in when Robert Pinsky read for the festival’s 10th anniversary. I expect, and hope, there will bne similarly long lines of poetry fans arriving early to get a good seat for a great night of theater and poetry.


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