Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hard Times for Poetry Too

As difficult as it is for me to think ahead to 2010 I suppose when planning for an event with a $1.3 million price tag it's not all that early. For 12 times dating back to 1986, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has funded a biannual  Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey but sadly the event which drew 19,000 people last year has been scrapped for 2010.

This is not my first blogging on hard economic times for poetry/arts, and I'm relatively certain it won't be my last. Still, I am honestly a little surprised by it, even though It probably didn't  require a crystal ball or tarot cards to see it coming.

The Dodge Festival has been sort of the Woodstock of poetry and regularly draws from the ranks of the well established poets. Names like Stephen Dunn, Sharon Olds, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ruth Stone, Mary Oliver, Theodore Weiss, Stanley Kunitz, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Amira Baraka, and Kenneth Koch to name a few. And that is only some from the first event. Since that time, there have been many more including:

  • William Stafford
  • W. S. Merwin
  • Carolyn Forche
  • Richard Wilbur
  • Li-Young Lee
  • Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Joy Harjo
  • Philip Levine
  • Rita Dove
  • Jane Kenyon
  • Donald Hall
  • Adrienne Rich
  • Robert Bly
  • Robert Creeley
  • Paul Muldoon
  • Robert Pinsky
  • Edwasr Hirsch
  • Heather McHugh
  • Billy Collins
  • Franz Wright
  • Jorie Graham
  • Ted Kooser
  • Robert Simic

Those are just a few of the names, the list of participating poets is enormous and covers a broad spectrum of poetic voice.  Perhaps the only name I think missing from the list that surprises me is that of John Ashbery.

My point in listing the names is simply to underscore the magnitude of what was been lost by the cancellation of the Festival.

It's hard to argue with the decision by the foundation. David Grant the CEO for the foundation lists a decline of 30% in the assets of the endowment from a year ago.

For the short term this is a blow to public support for poetry. The good news is that Grant says the foundation will continue to work to bring poetry to schools. He did not rule out a return of the festival in some form if not the same after taking a two year cycle off.  Keep your fingers crossed.

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