West Caldwell, New Jersey - The West Caldwell Public Library was the site of the Eighth Annual New Jersey Poetry Festival on Sunday, May 15th or- as the event coordinator, township resident and poet, Diane Lockward calls it- the annual poetry “party.”
Hundreds of poets and readers gathered at this location just 26 miles outside New York City to network and enjoy some twenty-four poets reading their work. The main purpose of the event, as Lockward designed it, is to “honor the poetry journals—the publications–that give us poets a place for our work.” Lockward’s secondary goal is to spread the word about how and where writers might submit poems. With an auspicious start, the event has continued to grow in popularity.
“I had left teaching in order to spend more time with poetry writing and to live the life of a poet,” Lockward said. “I had this idea in my head of doing some kind of a festival, but not with workshops (and other things that festivals might have). The West Caldwell Public Library had just put on a wonderful extension and hired someone to run special programs. I phoned in my proposal, left a message, and lo and behold, they called me back and were very excited about my idea. I launched (the poetry event) and then they wanted to do it again- and everyone who had participated wanted to come back.”
Lockward traditionally chooses twelve publishers to showcase at this annual event. Those editors then choose two of their own published poets to read during fifteen minute segments from a 1:00 p.m. start time to a 5:00 p.m. ending time. This format makes for what felt to be a perfect mix of time allowed for perusing books and talking to publishers and time spent in an SRO audience in the library's beautiful media room. Poetry topics ran from the tender and quite touching, such as fatherhood and watching children grow up too quickly, to witty and artful wordplay about "bubbles."
“There’s a core group of journals that come back every year,” Lockward said, “and I was especially pleased that there were a number of people participating this year that are new to the festival. I try to have one or two journals that are new,” she added. “It keeps it fresh. There’s always something ‘new.’”
Copies of twelve different journals were available for review and purchase and/or subscription this year including “Exit 13,” “U.S. 1 Worksheets,” “Paterson Literary Review,” “Journal of New Jersey Poets,” “Edison Literary Review,” (all of which titles reflect their New Jersey origins) and “Painted Bride Quarterly,” “Raintown Review,” “New York Quarterly,” “The Literary Review,” “Stillwater Review,” “Lips,” and “Tiferet.” These publications ranged from the long-established publishers’ 100+ page/bound volume designs, such as “Literary Review” and “Paterson Literary Review,” to the newly-established publishers’ saddle-stapled chapbooks.
Lockward aimed to have a cross-section of journals- those for a beginning poet’s submissions and those for an accomplished poet’s submissions, and she was right on target. For example, “Lips,” a magazine founded in 1981 by Laura Boss, has published poems by Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Marge Piercy, and Molly Peacock. An “established” publication, one can assume it would be looking for the more advanced writer. There was also “Stillwater Review,” a journal so new that the publishers were promoting by way of a mock-up of their inaugural issue.
The group of reading poets included:
For “Exit 13”: Joel Lewis and Dorothy McLaughlin;
For Paterson Literary Review: Anthony Buccino and Adele Kenny;
For “Journal of New Jersey Poets”: Theresa Burns and Tina Kelley
For “Edison Literary Review”: Laine Johnson and Michelle Ovale
For “Painted Bride Quarterly”: Matt Longabucco and Carley Moore;
For “Raintown Review”: John Foy and Eric Norris;
For “New York Quarterly”: Shelley Stenhouse and Douglas Treem;
For “The Literary Review”: Peter Murphy and Susan Rothbard;
For “U.S. 1 Worksheets”: Gail Gerwin and Dave Worrell;
For “Stillwater Review”: Judith Christian and Hinm Berkheiser
For “Lips”: Jim Haba and Ed Romond
For “Tiferet”: R.G. Rader and Joe Weil
One of the readers, Jim Haba, is the founder of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program (1986) Haba produced the Dodge Poetry Festivals through 2010, and he also created the Dodge Poetry-in-the-Schools Program and has consulted extensively for PBS television programming on poetry. He was editor of the anthology The Language of Life, and has published two chapbooks, Thirty-One Poems and Love Poems.
Internationally acclaimed poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan was on hand, wearing her publisher’s (vs. poet's) hat and promoting her “Paterson Literary Review.” Gillan is founder and director of the well-known Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College and a winner of the 2008 American Book Awards, (sharing this honor with other writers and poets such as Nikki Giovanni) for her book All That Lies Between Us: Essential Poets series (Guernica Press).
The poetry “party” event organizer has plenty of credentials, herself. Lockward has published three volumes of poetry, and has been included in Garrison Keillor’s "Good Poems for Hard Times." She’s also been recognized by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation for her efforts in promoting poetry and poetry publications.
Gillan’s What We Pass On: Collected Poems 1908-2009 is an amazing collection of intimate looks into her life, including the loss of her mother, and into what is called “a tapestry of one woman’s life- wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, Italian American.” It’s an overview of her work for the last 30 years that also includes new, never-before-published poems to show how memory is layered, and to confirm, as the book describes, “why poetry matters and why it can change us.”
Yes, that is worthy of being repeated: “Poetry matters and.. it can change us…”
For more information about this event and for information about next year’s New Jersey Poetry Festival gathering, please visit Diane Lockward’sweb site at http://dianelockward.com/fest.html.
Text and Photos copyright 2011 M. D. Caprario
M.D. Caprario is an entertainmnet journalist, and a writer and editor who works with authors around the world to help tell their stories. She reports from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and internationally (and even occasionally from New Jersey), covering for the media books, film, and music. Reach her at [email protected].