Poets in the making: Students attend Dodge Poetry Festival

Adam Frommer, Staff Writer

Today, students, led by English Teacher Rebecca Bahr, will attend the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry festival and listen to poets perform their artwork, share their stories, and teach their craft.

Bahr started encouraging students to attend the Dodge Poetry Festival over 10 years ago after going with her husband, and every year the group has grown, she said.

With few opportunities to listen to readings from contemporary poets beyond attending slam poetry, students enrolled in Bahr’s 12th grade poetry elective as well as other poetry lovers have the chance to experience live poetry readings at the festival, Bahr said.

Despite not having enrolled in Bahr’s poetry elective this year, Natasha Gaither (12), inspired by Bahr’s poetry unit in English 11, plans to attend the event for the first time.

“[Bahr] made us keep journals, find poems every night, and write reflections about them, so that’s what got me started,” Gaither said.

Students will attend multiple hour-long panels and have the opportunity to walk around, see different poets, and hear them read, Claire Yoo (12) said.

It is inspiring to catch well known poets, like Rita Dove, and be able to interpret and listen to a number of their less readily available works, English teacher Dr. Wendy Steiner, said.

In previous years, it was so great to hear these new poets, and hear them bring their work to life, Yoo said.

“The poets who were there talked to the people attending the festival as if they were peers – even though poet laureate Billy Collins was there, I felt like through our crafts we were connected,” Emma Jones ’18 said.

Two years ago, during the last trip, Jones and Tishiya Carey ’17 read their own poetry at the festival. “They all spontaneously got up and read and were fantastic,” Bahr said. They learned about who they were as poets and what their poetry was all about, she said.

“The open mic I did there was great because it just felt so accepting, and everyone had just come there with their own stories to tell through poetry,” Jones said.

“I was too intimidated to read anything that I had written, but I shared [Tishiya’s]  pride in that she felt comfortable enough to share the more vulnerable parts of herself with strangers,” Ricardo Pinnock ’18, who attended the festival two years ago, said.

The ultimate goal of the event is to have people be more immersed in poetry, exposed to the art form, and inspired to read and write poetry, Bahr said.

“I learned that my ear is more powerful than I thought it was,” Pinnock said. “An undervalued aspect of the writing process is listening to your writing and other people’s writing. Finding the right words that sound good to me became more important after I attended the conference.”

While Jones attended the Dodge Poetry Festival, a filmmaker interviewed her about her work and recorded her reading at the open mic, she said.

“It made me feel like I was being taken seriously, and that was really powerful,” Jones said.

The festival is a wonderful opportunity for all high schoolers to appreciate poetry in a new, exciting way, Yoo said.

“The writers of the poetry themselves bring their work to life in a way that only they will truly be able to since it is their own work. I think that it’s a very rare opportunity to have, and this is a great way to take advantage of it,” Yoo said.