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Geraldine R. Dodge poetry festival begins Thursday

October 6, 2010 |  9:23 am

When the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival kicks off Thursday night, some in the crowd will remember that it almost didn't happen.

The nation's largest all-poetry festival -- lasting four days, with almost 20,000 attendees -- was nearly a victim of the economic downturn. The festival has been held every other year since 1986, but its founder and sponsor was shaken by the stock plunges of 2008. Like many foundations, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation suffered significant losses to its endowment; in January of 2009, director David Grant told the Newark Star-Legder that it had lost 30% of its assets. The poetry festival, he said, would be canceled.

A year later, things had changed. "You know from my past messages that a year ago we did not expect to have a Festival in 2010," Grant wrote in a letter to supporters. He announced "with deep pleasure and appreciation" that with pledges of support from other quarters, the festival was back on.

It opens Thursday night in Newark, N.J., and continues through Sunday. Tickets for the full weekend are $200, and daytime passes are $22, with discounts for students and seniors.

Poets on tap this year include former U.S. poet laureates Kay Ryan, Mark Strand and Billy Collins; relative newcomers Matthew and Michal Dickman, Jericho Brown and Tara Betts; and nationally known poets Sharon Olds, Amiri Baraka, Rita Dove and Kwame Dawes.

A large component of the event includes teacher training, including official professional development hours, and there is outreach to high school students. In addition to the public readings, there will be discussions -- about poetry and prayer, poetry and class, poetry and truth, poetry from Homer to hip-hop -- and musical performances.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

 Photo: Kwame Dawes reading in New York in January. Credit: georgia.kral via Flickr