It’s been three weeks since the Dodge Poetry Festival. But I’m not ready to leave the spirit of the festival behind yet. Here’s one last interview.
Today and tomorrow, we’re visiting with Khalil Murrell, Poetry-in-the-Schools Assistant at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s Poetry Program. Khalil is a former high school teacher, now in his second year at Sarah Lawrence College’s well-respected creative writing program.
Khalil works on outreach – bringing Dodge’s poetry programs to struggling school districts in New Jersey, where the Foundation is based.
AA: Khalil, how did you become involved with the Dodge Poetry Program?
KM: Years ago, I taught secondary English in Philadelphia, during which time my colleague asked me to help bring a group of students from our school to the 2004 Dodge Poetry Festival. Needless to say, it was the muddiest experience I have ever had!
(Photo: Khalil Murrell, left. Poetry Assistant Michael Z Murphy, right.)
But it was not only great to see so many prominent names – i.e., Sandra Cisneros and Lucille Clifton -- but also poets whom I had recently seen on Def Poetry Jam, such as Marty McConnell and Roger Bonair Agard. And our students enjoyed themselves immensely, even helped to push our bus out of the muddy ditches. [One of the parking areas at the 2004 festival was called "Mud Lake." It lived up to its name.]
AA: What is it like working for the Poetry Program?
KB: Working here [at the Dodge Foundation] has surrounded me with writers in a way I never imagined. The camaraderie itself has affected my work and my drive to write. There are also tons of books of poetry all over our office, so I have access to a huge library and I’m reading poets now that I would not have considered otherwise.
AA: Readers, I was a festival assistant in 1996 and 1998. Working with festival organizer Jim Haba (left) was surreal. It looked and felt like a typical office most of the time, but one minute you’d be doing data entry and the next Jim Haba would be saying something profound and poetic. What a great job!
Khalil, can you describe the festival’s Student Day?
KB: At full capacity, the Concert Tent holds a little under 2,000 seats, and to see it filled with over a thousand young faces hungry for poetry makes you speechless.
We all hear stories about the non-attentiveness encouraged by our quick-paced society. So many poets ran up to me joyous about the striking and prolonged connections they had made with students during their Poets on Poetry sessions or in their individual readings.
Tomorrow, Khalil tells us how Dodge is reaching out to New Jersey's big city schools in need.
Visit Becky's Book Reviews for more Poetry Friday offerings: http://blbooks.blogspot.com/2008/10/poetry-friday-round-up.html