I am writing to you from deep in the bowels of the Robert Treat Motel in Newark, New Jersey, where I am participating in this year’s Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (http://www.dodgepoetry.org/). I’m glad that Martin Farawell got the festival up and running after a year hiatus because it’s a wonderful creation, the largest poetry gathering since the dawn of time (according to Billy Collins). The poets I like most this year include Amiri Baraka, Teresa Carson, Rita Dove, Bob Hicok, Dorianne Laux, Dunya Mikhail, Sharon Olds, and Marie Ponsot.
Earlier this morning I sat in the poets’ cafeteria under the massive Border’s tent, and I marveled at how I seemed to be slowly approaching the inner sanctum of American poetry. After all these years, they might let in another half-smart scribbler from Ohio. On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling like a fraud. I sort of wanted to go back up to my incredibly fragrant room and watch TV. But I soldiered on to my first event, a conversation on the “Riches of Daily Life” with Sharon Olds, Marie Ponsot, and Rachel Hadas (whose work I am not at all familiar with). A delightful Dodge staffer introduced us around and Sharon gave me a little nod, remembering me perhaps from the first Academy of American Poets Forum, which was held at my College. Sharon really is such a sweet person. I can see that she has a good heart in all this chaos. Marie shook my hand and said, “Good to see you again,” perhaps remembering me from a dinner after a Barrow Street reading. What a gutsy delight she is, truly, still protesting all our daffy foreign adventures with her buttons and everything else. Then Rachel shook my hand, said hello, and turned to the Dodge staffer and delightfully said, “So is Jerry going to be serving as moderator or something?” The tenderness of the inner sanctum washed over me like amniotic fluid.
We each read a couple of our own poems and talked about how they relate to the Riches of Daily Life. When Martin had asked me to take part in this discussion—he put me on the schedule and everything—I thought he’d made a mistake. What do I know about the riches of daily life? Now, if the discussion had been called the Helplessness of Daily Life or the Small Humiliations of Daily Life or the Practical Joke of Daily Life or even Chicken Soup for the Spleen, I would have felt right at home. But when Rachel read a poem about jury duty and Sharon read an ode to her menstrual blood and Marie read a poem that basically said there can’t be any riches of daily life when people are dying in war, I sat up in my seat and read a poem about someone else’s riches and someone else’s period blood—and I’m not joking. I fit in, somewhat. The conversation went great. The crowd in the Robert Treat/Tri-State Ballroom had some great aesthetic manifestos slash questions to ask at the end.
After the panel, I signed some books in the Border's tent, drank some coffee, and shuffled off to another event. Now I'm lying in bed, my wife sleeping soundly beside me. Traffic and sirens on the streets below. Some bad movie starring What's-Her-Name on HBO. Ativan coming on. Another reading in the morning and then back to my life as a purveyor refurbished silver linings.