Every two years something magical happens in tiny Waterloo, near Stanhope, N.J. For four days, this restored historical village is alive with the rhythm and music of language. It is alive with poetry.
Waterloo is home to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, the largest poetry event in North America. Founded in 1986, the biennial celebration draws thousands of people from around the country. More than 15,000 are expected to attend this year's festival, which begins today and runs through Sept. 24.
Stepping onto the festival grounds is a bit like stepping into the mythical land of Brigadoon. The ordinary world fades away, as if Mnemosyne, the muse of poetry, had designed the set. People gather, even in the coldest of winds, under the large main tent or in many smaller ones. Language lovers fill the church, the gristmill, the gazebo, the museum. Everywhere the air is filled with electricity and awe. But the setting is only part of the enchantment.
The Dodge festival features dozens of the biggest and brightest contemporary writers. Major poets like Lucille Clifton, Edward Hirsch, and Yusef Komunyakaa will be part of this year's celebration. The new poet laureates of New Jersey and the United States will also be featured. Attendees will pick and choose from dozens of readings, workshops, and "conversations on craft." Events run from morning till night, and no one could possibly hear them all.
The festival is all about immersion, about poetry in all its various styles, including hip-hop and "spoken word." It is about taking poetry out of the stuffy chambers in ivory towers and libraries, and making it part of everyday life. This festival is not just for professional poets. Nearly 4,000 students and 2,000 teachers from across the country will attend.
No other poetry event rivals the Dodge in size or scope. Perhaps that's why the festival draws people like Bill Moyers, who filmed his "Language of Life" PBS series there. This is a truly magical place, but unlike Brigadoon, when its mists clear, the echoes are meant to be lasting.
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