All posts by Sharon Dolin

What Is It About the Dodge Poetry Festival

Okay. It’s pretty cool to read to a packed auditorium of poets and poetry lovers. To share the stage with so many luminaries like Natasha Trethewey, Terrance Hayes, Eavan Boland, Jane Hirshfield, and the inimitable Patricia Smith who took the photo below. To yatter on about poetry, my influences, going public with private feelings. To read from my new book and all my others. To sell books and sign them.

But what makes the Dodge special is the chance to change lives. Literally. I could feel that happening on Friday, the day devoted to high school students. I had finished up by early afternoon, was standing outside in the sun, when 4 young women sheepishly approached me. I recognized one of them. She’d been in the front row of the auditorium when I’d read earlier that morning. They came over to tell me how much my reading, my presence had meant to them, particularly when it came to reading certain poems. Now I had shied away from reading from my new book, Whirlwind, on that day, a book devoted largely to my divorce, though I must have read one poem from it at the end. Mostly, though, I read from early books, including my first book,Heart Work, which Sheep Meadow published way back in 1995. Now that I think about it, before any of these girls had been born. What moved and transformed them was my poem “If My Mother” about getting my schizophrenic mother to sign herself into a hospital. It made me realize all over again how difficult it is for individuals everywhere, particularly young people, to feel comfortable talking about such things. That there is still a stigma attached to mental illness, just as there is to alcohol and drug addiction. Perhaps even more so. One of them also was moved by “Passing” from Burn and Dodge, which talks about racial passing and my own experience of passing as Irish because of the way I look in combination with my Irish-sounding surname when I lived in Carroll Gardens in the late Eighties and early Nineties, when it felt unsafe to reveal myself in what was then a working class Italian neighborhood. I can sniff anti-Semitism the way I’m sure some folks can sniff racism.

The emphasis at the Festival was often on a more narrative or lyric confessionalism, for lack of better terms. I don’t really recall anyone there from the more language-based or experimental sector of the poetry world. And while I’d argue that strict schools of poetry have pretty much gone away, there was a noticeable tendency to feature the popular, even populist poets. That’s not to say they’re facile. Far from it. Terrance Hayes read all new work every time I heard him and the poems were dizzying in their complexities. Dorianne Laux read a startling, brilliant new poem that jumped from Paul Simon and Grace and Graceland to the diamond mines in South Africa to those “diamonds on the soles of my shoes.” And Jane Hirshfield always dazzles with poems that conjure the unsaid, the silences, as much as the said. But there was no Sharon Mesmer or Charles Bernstein or even Lyn Hejinian present.It was thrilling, yet odd to get 6 minutes, really, to read to a packed house on Thursday night. And so I chose to read 2 poems, one from either end of the poetry spectrum: “Desire and the Lack”–as language-dense as possible–and “To the Furies Who Visited Me in the Basement of Duane Reade”–a poem of narrative hyperbole.

I do hope I get asked back.

Sharon Dolin’s Schedule at the Dodge Poetry Festival

Thursday Oct. 11th
11:00-12:30
Conversation: The Riches of Daily Life
Sharon Dolin, Thomas Lux, Idra Novey
First Peddie Baptist Church

3:30-4:30
Reading and Conversation
Sharon Dolin, John Murillo, C.K. Williams
Prudential Hall

5-7 pm
Poet Reception
Chase Room

7:30-10:00
Poetry Sampler
Sharon Dolin and 25 other poets including: Eavan Boland, Terrance Hayes, Jane Hirshfield, Dorianne Laux, Patricia Smith, and Natasha Trethewey
Prudential Hall

Friday, Oct. 12th
9:30-10:30 am
Festival Poet Readings
Brian Barker, Henti Cole, Sharon Dolin, Nicky Finney, John Murillo
Victoria Theatre

12:10-1:10pm
Poets on Poetry
Eduardo C. Corral, Sharon Dolin

Sat., October 13th
10:30-11:40am
Festival Poets Reading
Sharon Dolin, Juan Felipe Herrera, Mark Hilringhouse
First Peddie Baptist Memorial Church

3:00-4:10pm
Conversation: Going Public with Private Feelings
Nicky Beer, Richard Blanco, Sharon Dolin, Timothy Liu
Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral

Sunday, Oct. 14th
9:00-10:00 am
Festival Poet Readings
Sharon Dolin, Terrance Hayes, Joseph Millar, Benjamin Alire Saenz
Prudential Hall

12:00-1:10pm
Conversation: American Poetries
Sharon Dolin, Kurtis Lamkin, Ada Limon, C.K. Williams
Newark Museum

Dodge Poetry Festival

Dodge Poetry Festival Sharon Dolin will be a Featured Poet at this 4-day poetry extravaganza of readings, talks, and conversations about the art of poetry. To be held in the Downtown Arts District of Newark, NJ on Thursday, Oct. 11-Sunday October14. Detailed Schedule tba. Go to their events page at: http://www.dodgepoetry.org/at-the-festival/

Poetry of the Shofar / The Shofar of Poetry

After a long hiatus, I’m back, to post on Whirlwind, my blog about poetry, the arts, and whatever else passes through me.

Each year, Jews the world over listen to one of the crudest of instruments. In the midst    of abundant prayers, we people of the book, the word, the Torah, the ones who value interpretation of what is written, listen to the orchestrated blasts of a ram’s horn. It strikes me as a paradox, though quite poetic, to do so. It is a mitzvah to hear the shofar being blown. It’s also a commandment. And yet. The shofar blast is the place beyond words, beyond meaning we can articulate, beyond time. Did the shofar blow at the moment of Creation, which is what we are celebrating every year? Did the Jews in the desert hear the shofar when Moses communed with God on Mount Sinai? I don’t know. But I do know that there is something in us, verbal as we Jews certainly are, that yearns for what lies beyond words. What even words can’t say. And so we turn to the animal. The ram. Sign of the akedah: the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, a story we read from the Torah on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Sign of the prohibition against child sacrifice. Sign of the mystery. Sign, perhaps, of the wound in creation. The sound of suffering. The sound of liberation

[The photo, by the way, is of Antelope Canyon, in Arizona. 

It’s how I picture the inside of a shofar.]

For me, the shofar is like poetry. We go to poetry to be moved. To hear language that is encantatory, even revelatory. Metaphors and images that leap in ways that are not entirely rational. But surrounding every poem, each line of verse, is the white space: the shofar of silence that punctuates the sound of words and phrases. Silence we feel more deeply because the words all point to the ineffable. If poems are prayers, then the shofar is the space in between our prayers. The shofar of space. The shofar of time.
We think that we, as humans, are given something that the animals are not given. But it is only humans who need the gift. The animals already embody it. Thus we take up the shofar and blow: Tekiah, Teruah, Shevarim . . . blasts, toots, wails, blares, laments.
I go to synagogue each fall to pray: to recite the words in melodies my ancestors sang but also to stop and hear what lies beyond the limits of speech. What points to the void. Or the transcendent one. The shofar. A footnote: Tonight I went to hear a program honoring John Cage at 100. It was an alternation, a dialogue, of music between Cage and Pierre Boulez. It was the first time I had heard Cage’s 4’33” (1960) performed. It is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. Well, there is never complete silence. Just the instruments and musicians were still as was the conductor. Perfectly still. But the sounds, the clicks, the paper rustlings, throat-clearings, all the ambient noise in the audience at Columbia University’s Miller Theater, where I was, including all the buzzing in my head, as in everyone else’s heads, I suppose, continued. This, too, was a shofar of silence.