Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival

Since this is an even year, Waterloo Village in Stanhope, NJ was host to the fantastic Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. I love to attend because its a day when I can get immersed in poetry (obviously) and nature.

Four years ago, when it was held at Duke Farms (Doris Duke's old NJ estate) I had a marvelous time, even though it was rainy, muddy and a mess. I'd always wanted to see the estate (it's closed to the public, except for the gardens, although that's changing now) and I finally got my opportunity. Unfortunately, things apparently didn't work out between the Duke and the Dodge folks, and two years later, the festival was back at Waterloo Village - which is a much longer drive for me, but I love the place, too. That's where it's been since.

This year, the only day I could attend was on Thursday (due to family obligations.) Thursday, as it happened, was Student Day. Teenage poets and their friends were all over the grounds, since GRD student poets whose work was chosen were doing readings of their winning works in one of the tents.

In a way, seeing teens with funky clothes, hair (meaning, both with color and with style) and accessories, I felt kind of old. But strangely, at the same time, I felt refreshingly hopeful that poetry was still alive and well for the next generation. I heard Mark Doty (giving a talk on the Main Stage) that most kids write their strongest poetry when they are emotional and unhappy. I don't usually write my brand of poetry in that particular frame of mind - but it made me harken back to when I was a teen, and I think he may have been right.

Anyway, there was a great roster of poets giving lectures, readings and taking part in panel discussions. I arrived right at the tail end of Naomi Shihab Nye's presentation on the Main Stage. I didn't see or hear all of it, obviously, but what I did get was enough to entice me to head over to the Borders' tent to buy a copy of fuel. Very cool!

After that, I attended a talk by Ted Kooser. This former US Poet Laureate was funny and engaging. In detailing why he wrote poetry, he said that in his younger years, it was to 'get girls'. When an audience member asked him if it worked, he smiled and said indeed it did.

After the q & a session, Mr. Kooser read some poems from Valentines, since he wasn't planning on using that material for his Main Stage appearance. I love the idea that this collection was sent to women who requested to be on his mailing list (until it got too large and expensive to keep up with the mailings!) I wish I had been into his work at the time. But I have the book now, and that's all right, too. But I have to say that his reading of these poems was riveting. The man is a brilliant speaker!

Another event I attended was a panel discussion regarding history and poetry. This was part of the Conversation segment of the festival. The panel was comprised of Martin Espada, Joy Harjo, Robert Haas and Kevin Young. Individually, each poet/writer was fascinating, but since this was a new topic for 'conversation', I got the feeling that collectively, they were winging it a bit. Nevertheless, it was very interesting. Each talked about a collective history of people: Ms. Harjo, the Native American perspective; Mr. Espada, Hispanic and South American culture; Mr. Young, the African American experience, particular in the South and Mr. Haas, an assortment of historical issues.

One thing they brought out was how poetry keeps history true, and not part of a revisionist idea of what we should read about in school textbooks. However, while historical poetry did and does report on the experiences of the day, it can (and often is) tempered by the writer's point of view and his/her emotions on the subject matter. But what it doesn't do it make it 'nicer' or more 'optimistic' than it is. All four poets read from their works to punctuate their presentations and I thoroughly enjoyed that, too.

Later in the day, I signed up for the Open Mic. On Thursday, it was between 5 and 6 PM. Everyone who was doing Open Mic was given roughly 3 minutes to read one or two poems. Threre were a few poets whom I thought were really good. I felt kind of like a fish out of water, however, because out of all the readings, mine was the only one that had poems using traditional poetic form, rhyme and light verse. Pretty much all the others (with maybe one or two exceptions) were angsty and emotional - and most were of the free verse kind.

Among the readers: One woman, who was very uncomfortable about her work, read a poem about a dead child and another one that had her being a 17 year old who was shot to death in a concentration camp during WWII. Another woman read what was essentially a list poem about all the physical scars she bore from her life. A large, biker-looking guy loudly recited an angry politically tinged piece (which was more like a poetry slam experience, except that he checked his chapbook periodically.) An elderly man who said he lives in Florida and likes to write about folks living in condos there, read a poem he wrote about a what-if: what if Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were aged neighbors living in a gated community in Southern Florida?

This man did make an interesting point, however, before reading his poem. He felt strongly about (and was an activist for) a movement to not allow grading of poetry in schools. He felt that poetry - and creativity in general - should be encouraged, and not be subjected to the subjectiveness of a teacher's (or school's) grading system.

While I don't know how students could NOT be graded on their work in schools, I also agree with this fellow's POV. Some things can be quantified, granted, but many other things - sometimes the things which might keep a kid in school when everything else fails - should not receive that almighty A - B - C - D - E. (Or whatever alphanumeric judging system is in place presently.) Food for thought, eh? Most definitely!

There were some other highlights from the day for me. For one thing, I love the architecture of some of the restoration homes which dot the landscape of Waterloo Village. One particular favorite is the Peter Smith house, which is a Second Empire Victorian home (not available to tour inside, alas) to the public. I am kinda sorta obsessed by Victorian homes, particularly SEcond Empire, since one such house figures prominently in a giant work-in-progress for me.

Another thing is the beauty of the place with the river and the little falls and the grist mill and such. Ah nature!

And finally...

There were two odd stories (well, odd for me) which occurred within a few minutes of each other - on a path I was walking. This path was, just then, (and also, only temporarily) pretty empty of festival-goers.

The first thing - on the path, I was heading up a hill, going towards one of the reading/discussion tents, when 3 teenage girls, walking abreast, passed me, heading down the hill. I overheard only one line of their conversation, but I thought it was pretty much a goody! One girl said to the other two: "I've always hated his name."

Now, I have no idea what that was all about, or who the person in question (with the hated name) was, but I thought it was a really nice moment of bizarreness.

The other thing which happened (just after passing the three girls) was that while I continued hiking up the hill, a golf cart (Note: some of the staff of the GRD organization were driving around to the various event tents in these carts) came up beside me. The man driving this particular cart asked me if I wanted a lift to the top of the hill.

It was a nice gesture, right? Even though getting into vehicles with strangers is a questionable activity, right?

But, at that moment, I had been in a bit of a reverie - and was clearly startled.

So, I declined the kind man's offer, saying some idiotically dumb thing like, "Oh, no thanks! I'm just enjoying the scenery," or some equally inane thing. As the man drove off, I suddenly had a V-8/slap your forehead moment. And I wanted to seriously kick myself for being such a dork.


Because the man was Jim Haba - the director of the festival! I've been wanting to meet him in person for years now! And I totally blew the chance to chat with him.

Figures, huh? Heavy sigh!

When I got to the top of the hill, Mr. Haba was just getting back into his cart (after apparently getting off to check out something.) I smiled at him and he waved back at me - and then took off.

Oh well.

That's the way it goes sometimes.

So anyway...

Here's looking forward to the next festival - in 2010!

Oh - and one other thing - in the next post, I will post my photos of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Yes, I took quite a few of 'em, as expected.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Princeton Children's Book Festival - The Before Picture

Today is the Princeton Children's Book Festival.

I haven't gone there in the past, but with the contract pending from Lilley Press for Penny Wishes - and because I happen to have two young children, too - I think it will be a lot of fun to attend this event. From what I've read, it's all about the scheduled writers there doing readings, signing books and networking.

I'm really looking forward to it, and I'll report back on this later today.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Meeting Jeff Markowitz - Part II

Yesterday I went to the Manville Library to see and hear Mr. Markowitz talk about murder mysteries, his writing and the Cassie O'Malley series, among other projects.

Despite his claims to the contrary, I found Jeff Markowitz to be quite funny - and the group of people attending his discussion certainly seemed to agree with this assessment. He fielded questions about how he became a writer and storyteller, talked about some of his favorite authors and books, and told some humorous anecdotes to punctuate those points. One of my favorites was about an appearance he made in Florida at a bookstore: To get the gig, he told the bookstore management he could fill the room. And he did - by calling his mother who lived near the store and asking that she send ALL her friends to come by on that date.

As a New Jersey writer, he also told the Manville Library audience that he likes to incorporate a lot of quirky state-related details into his stories, such as local politics (like the kind you can see televised on local access TV) and fictitious minor league baseball teams in fictitious towns.

After his talk, Mr. Markowitz was available for questions - and of course, to autograph copies of his latest book. Unable to resist (because 1.) I am a fan of murder mystery. 2.) because I love to support local authors - and 3.) I really enjoyed his talk) I bought a copy of A Minor Case of Murder from him, and he autographed the book for me. We chatted about some of his upcoming work - and about a bit of my projects, too - and then he also told me about another Xanga blogger who writes humorous poetry. I intend to check this writer out later today!

After I read A Minor Case of Murder, I'll give a review here.

In the meantime, if Jeff Markowitz is going to be appearing at a convenient venue - I recommend going to see him.

And speaking of upcoming readings and appearances - check me out, too!

Next Tuesday, September 16th at 7PM, I'll be joining host (and most excellent poet) Marcia Ivans for Poetry & Pastries - an entertaining evening of poetry readings at Café Beethoven in Chatham.

I'll post more on that soon, along with other dates for readings and stuff!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Meeting Jeff Markowitz - Part I

Jeff Markowitz is a writer whom I met in the Xanga-sphere some time ago. He writes murder mysteries which are one of my special, favorite genres to read!

His blog there is doahsdeer. Tomorrow, he is doing a reading/book-signing at a nearby town's library. And I'm going to be there! I definitely believe we should all support our local authors - and take advantage of the opportunities to meet them and hear them talk about their works!

I'll post all about it tomorrow after I get back.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

What a Character!

Being an insomniac has its merits. For one thing, you can use your computer without any interruptions whatsoever in the middle of the night, unlike what you'd normally have to deal with during the day. Which is exactly what I was doing in the wee hours of this damp-ish morning.

So, I was checking out Neatorama, a fascinating blog I follow, which has all sorts of - well, neat things! And, that led me to a link for another blog called Quipsologies. This blog also has a lot of very cool things on it. But, one thing which really caught my eye was a link on that page to yet another page called

You know how you have to search around and play with the 'alt' plus four numbers to get 'special characters' for a document? Or else play with the 'symbol' drop-down to find the character you want to use so you can try and insert it? Well, this page allows you to simply cut and paste the special characters. Fast and easy. And fun.

Check it out!


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gulf Post Poets!

Woo Hoo!

Gulf Post Poets, a chapter of the Poetry Society of Texas, run a number of poetry contests each month, with different themes and challenges. (Despite living in NJ, I found out about them from being a contributor over the last several years to Sol Magazine.)

I started entering their contests this past summer - and I just found out today that my poem Guess Who Gets the Credit? took 1st place in their July 'Barbecue' competition!


So...if you have the chance, check them out. I will be a sponsor of a couple of their upcoming contests this autumn. Even if you use the ideas as prompts (and not enter - although, if you write poetry, you should!) I guarantee it'll be worth your while!


Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I just started a Facebook page. It's here. I'm having a lot fun with it. I hope readers of this blog will stop by and visit me there, too. I'm already gaining 'friends' there - and in just one day!
Will you be my 'friend', too?


Monday, September 1, 2008

Writing Tip Monday

Good morning!

Today, by royal decree (and an overactive imagination!) - and for all future Mondays - I will have a post here called Writing Tip Monday.

Today's tip is on an easy way to get your writing started for the day. This is particularly helpful if you are staring at a blank piece of paper or computer screen. You know what you are there to just can't seem to get it going.


That's the traditional, school-style haiku. In this exercise, you use just 17 syllables in which to be completely concise when making a point. Five words, then seven words and then five words again. Is it 'counting'? Of course. The point is not to write beautiful, elegant haiku, but rather, jump-start yourself and your writing.

But first, some backstory...

Several years ago, I started writing another blog in another blogosphere (TheUnseenUndine - at Xanga.) It was a lot of fun, and I got to 'meet' other writers by blog-networking. One day, in that same blogworld, I discovered a new blog which was just getting off the ground, called the Daily Haiku. Each day, the owner of the site would have a different flavor (twofer 'ku for Tuesday or all 'W' Wednesday) along with some challenge or theme. Those who participated could write their efforts in the 'comments' section of the blog. It caught on quickly and became a bit hit, at least for a few years. Sadly, the site is now defunct.

Now, this wasn't true haiku (or even senryu or zappai - well, maybe zappai), obviously, although many 'ku writers did labor to produce something akin to it. Haiku purists mostly hated the site, but it really had a purpose, because it got writers to think - and put the words down.

Now, I'm no Basho. Not even close. So, realizing I lacked the subtlety for that sublime Zen art form, I decided to go for humor and storytelling, which is a standard in my particular brand of poetry. (It's why I go by Lightverse here. Get it?) A couple of other writers on that board also did the humor/word play thing - and it became a kind of game with us. A challenge in its own right.

But the main thing is, it also got me writing, right off in the AM. And, that's a good thing, right?

So - find a clever word (Worthless Word for the Day is a great source!) or interesting news story (try Yahoo Weird News or Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird or Fark for example) - or write all 17 syllables without the use of the letter 'e'. Or give yourself a challenge like describing a beach or a tree or an old house or someone you saw the previous day, just in passing. The possibilities are endless - or at least, 17 syllables long.