My husband and I just rolled in from Stanhope, New Jersey - where we were immersed in poetry for two glorious days. It was overcast and misty in historic Waterloo Village, which was re-opened exclusively for the nearly 20,000 people who showed up for one, two, three or four days of nonstop poetry at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, which ran from Thursday, September 25 through Sunday, September 28. However, the rain didn't ruin a thing, it only added intimacy to the literary atmosphere shared by the poets and their audiences alike.
I have never experienced such a rich wealth of words in so short a time. There were no less than five U. S. Poet Laureates there (Billy Collins, Robert Hass, Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, and Charles Simic). They, along with some of the most well known and influencial poets of our day, shared poems, conversation, and private feelings about their lives and craft. There would be many great poets in one spot, giving readings of their famous works. Heady, exhilarating, thrilling...
We floated from beautiful tent to tent, as they lay nestled in and amongst the trees and landmark historic buildings. The tents had identifying names that they borrowed from their nearest structures. Names like...Apothecary Tent, White Barn Tent, Stagecoach Inn Tent, Library Tent, and so forth. My husband and I sat mesmerized at 9:30 Saturday morning in the Sawmill Tent having a conversation on craft with Sharon Olds. She is so honored a poet, receiving awards far and wide, including the Guggenheim Fellowship. She was the State Poet Laureate of New York from 1998 to 2000, and yet there she was, as down to earth as anyone else. When she first entered the tent, she started talking to the tall speakers, asking them what kind of animal they were - in jest, of course, in lovely, lovely jest. And so it was with all the poets, approachable, amiable, and highly entertaining, not knowing their works are stacked up in the corners of my house like columns.
The Paul Winter Consort performed, too. Their music is mingled with the voices of whales, wolves, eagles, and other animals. They performed in the huge main tent, playing instruments of many kinds to the sheer wonderment of the audience. Saturday evening we were invited to howl with the wolves in the recording. Paul Winter asks us to raise our own howls for the betterment of humans and animals in America and all over the world. It became a resounding 'barbaric yawp"! It was so much fun and so cathartic I wanted to keep howling for hours....in my mind, I did.
I cannot possibly write about the entire experience... from "anyone who wanted to" giving voice to Walt Whitman, Anne Sexton, Etheridge Knight, and Sappho in the Gazebo, to the overall feel of the place. Jim Habba, the festival director said he hoped that we would find pleasures of all kinds there, wherever we turned, as we began to relax in the sea of words and images washing over us. My husband and I left Sunday after listening to Ted Kooser read his evocative poetry. Our ears, heads, hearts, and spirits were filled to the brim with metaphors and similes. The words didn't just wash over us - we drank them in like a tonic.