The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program

A short history of the Dodge Poetry Program: many years ago, under the leadership of Scott McVay, Dodge funded a survey to find which areas in the arts were the most underfunded. The results? Poetry and playwriting. Known for its deep commitment to the arts, Dodge invested in both a playwriting program and a poetry program. The playwriting program eventually became its own 501(c)(3) as the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey (still going strong, still a Dodge grantee), while the poetry program remains in-house to this day as the Dodge Poetry Program.

Poetry in the Schools

The Poetry Program reaches out to teachers and students throughout the year to help them deepen their own experience of poetry. For teachers in New Jersey, whether or not they have a professional interest in writing or literature, the Poetry Program offers a series of poetry exploration groups called Clearing the Spring, Tending the Fountain, led by Dodge Poets.

For New Jersey high school students and teachers, there are Poet Visits from Dodge Poets, and Mini-Festivals, which feature several Dodge Poets reading and leading discussions around poetry. Each year, there may be up to a dozen Mini Festivals at high schools throughout the state.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

And for poetry lovers everywhere, The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival is Dodge’s signature poetry event. The biennial Festival is a four-day celebration of poetry featuring close to five dozen internationally acclaimed poets reading, performing and engaging in discussions with audiences as intimate as a few dozen to as large as 2,800. At any given moment during the Festival, there are ten or more stages hosting simultaneous poetry events. Nearly 16,000 people traveled from 43 states for the 2010 Festival.

The Festival has been described as "poetry heaven" by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, "a new Woodstock" by the Christian Science Monitor, and simply "Wordstock" by The New York Times.

“New Jersey has all of the challenges that every other state faces, but in New Jersey, unlike in many other places, poetry holds a place of importance, thanks in large part to the Dodge Foundation,” says Poetry Director Martin Farawell. He adds, “We hear from poets, who give readings all across the nation, that they are amazed when they come to the Festival by how much New Jersey teachers and students know about contemporary poetry. The Poetry Program and Festival are having a huge impact on how poetry is taught and experienced. People who thought they didn’t like it, who were even resistant, find themselves deeply touched and discover contemporary poets have much to say to them.”

“We hear from poets who give readings all across the nation that they are amazed when they come to the Festival by how much New Jersey teachers and students know about contemporary poetry.”

Over the course of more than 25 years, Dodge has committed millions of dollars to its Poetry Program, but not simply because poetry needs funding more than other areas of the arts. Poetry is the language of metaphorical thinking, which allows us to imagine how we are like others and they are like us. It’s what makes us capable of empathy. In difficult times, in an age of standardized tests, poetry is essential for increasing our capacity for creativity.

“You don’t need materials to make or share poems– you don’t even need pen and paper. You just need a voice,” says Farawell. “It is the simplest, most profound, and most fundamentally human of art forms.”

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Did You Know?

Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and William Carlos Williams, three of the most influential poets of the last 100+ years, all called New Jersey home.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

In its 26-year history, the Dodge Poetry Festival has involved over 500 Festival Poets, including Nobel Laureates, individual state and U.S. Poets Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, and an array of poets from diverse cultures and subcultures here and abroad.

The Festival is the largest poetry event in North America, routinely attracting 17,000 – 20,000 people.

Don’t miss our treasure trove of Festival videos on YouTube.

Photos by T. Charles Erickson and Lauren Rutten