April 12, 2016

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Amok at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival: II

This was the view on the way to the Dodge Poetry Festival last weekend: There's a reason it's called "driving rain"... Where is the rain driving us? Round the bend. Crazy. Over the hills and through the woods. To an early grave. What is the rain driving? Blue P.T. Cruiser, droplets on fresh wax. Gray VW bug, fat as a raindrop, smooth as sharkskin. How does the rain hold the steering wheel? Press the gas, hit the brakes, turn on its windshield wipers? Can rain see through the rain? Does the rain drive with the radio on? Does it get a rush every time a rock station plays "Riders on the Storm?" How bad does the rain have to be before rain pulls over, turns off the engine, waits until it can bear the sound of its own pounding heart. I parked in a muddy field about a ten minute walk from Waterloo Village. By 10:30 AM -- despite the rain -- the main lots were full. It was Teacher Day. I headed to the registration tent for my free (whoopee!) teacher admission bracelet and free (double whoopee!) Teacher Packet. The packet is one of the amazing ways Dodge supports poetry in the schools. It's filled with poems -- a double sided page for each poet at the festival. These are intended for the high school classroom. We also get a few pages of teaching ideas. The Sawmill I checked my program on the fly and set out for the Sawmill Tent & Joy Harjo, whose work I've long admired. (I read her beautiful "Eagle Poem" at Jason & Bethany's wedding.) Harjo calls herself a reluctant poet. She wanted to be an artist, but her love of music and her mother's songwriting drew her to poetry. You can hear those elements in Harjo's poems. She uses chant, repetition, animal totems and Native American stories in her poetry. Her work is often sensory, like the poem she read, "It's Raining in Honolulu." It begins, "There is a small mist at the brow of the mountain,/each leaf of flower, of taro, tree and bush shivers with ecstasy." The rest of the poem is here: Harjo, who wore a black cowboy hat and henna decorations on her right hand, remembered reading Emily Dickinson and Louis Untermeyer's "Poetry for Children" as a child. One of four siblings, she tucked herself into a closet to find a quiet place to read and draw. A member of the Mvskoko/Creek Nation, she was sent to "Indian" school and experienced discrimination there even as Native American culture was beginning to earn respect in the U.S. She told us about her adventures canoeing on the Pacific Ocean. The experience has taught her to listen to the "Wise Self" -- the inner voice that warns you about danger. Harjo is working on a play about a woman who ignores her Wise Self. The main character, Red Bird, leaves her family to take up with the wrong guy. The sections Harjo read from the play were powerful -- particularly how spouses can shift from love to a pattern of abuse. The play premieres in March (NYC?) A teacher in the audience asked how students can connect with the mythological/ancestral family stories in their writing. This would help them learn about themselves. Harjo recommended music (which has ancestral roots) or a symbolic image (an animal) that takes students beyond everyday language. Take a look at the puddle outside the Sawmill Tent. I felt awful for the people in flip-flops. BTW: Joy Harjo is reading in Howard County, MD this weekend, 10/5/08. Info is at Look for her children's book, "The Good Luck Cat." She has another one for kids coming out soon, "Poem for a Girl Becoming." Next up: Friday's Poetry Sampler with Jane Hirshfield, Edward Hirsch, Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ted Kooser, Linda Pastan, Mark Doty and more.

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