The first flyer for the 2010 Dodge Festival reached the house this week. On the website, there's a photo of the NJPAC with a great and colorful crowd in and around it. The site talks at some length about how the new location (used to be in Waterloo Village, and one unfortunate year at Duke Farms) will be co-located with the vibrant Newark arts scene and "greener" because it will enable attendance by public transportation. This is all true, I suppose, but I can't help but feel this will be a very, very, different experience than prior festivals, and it will be missing some of what, for me, were the best experiences of the festival.
At Waterloo, there were occasionally long walks between selected venues - I guess for many people, these were an inconvenience, but for me, they were a chance to digest whatever event I had just been in, breath for a minute, and get ready to give myself over to the next experience. Can you imagine, for example, going from Anne Waldman to Coleman Barks without a sorbet-like stroll separating?
The spread-out nature of the festival permitted spontaneous gatherings; you'd sometimes see a group of (ahem) younger aspiring poets gathered in circle talking, or even having an impromptu critique group meeting. It also permitted the strolling musicians - like Yarina, who are featured prominently on the website - to really stroll. I'm hopeful the planners are considering this, though I'm not sure how it's going to happen.
The particular venues of the Waterloo layout also contributed to some events - storytelling in the barn, spiritual poems in the old church, the crazy joy of the high school kids' reading from the gazebo. I can't see how those venues can be recreated around NJPAC - different ones, maybe, but newer, pre-fab ones.
Probably what I'll miss most are those moments where I wander away to the side of the Morris Canal and just unplug from the intellectual energy of the event. Looking back over past festivals, those times are what I seem to remember most clearly. Walking along that quiet path down by the canal, toward those two buildings that always seemed somehow forgotten, to that tent across the canal that always seemed to collect all the water from all the other tents, thinking about the 6,000 stories in Dovie Thomason's repertoire, about meeting poets like Beth Ann Fennelly whose work I knew for 6 years before I met her, about Taha Mohammad Ali's experiences and Mark Doty's great joy for whatever he was doing (reading, chatting, greeting people on the walk. We'll see if those experiences can be recreated in Newark. Maybe they'll open the ball park for us.
I'll accept the "greener" label and its good intentions for now, though that's a very hard thing to prove. Most "greener" claims simply displace waste to a different location or trade waste for energy (like how hand dryers eliminate a bit of waste at the expense of bit of increased electricity consumption), but it's probably true that some people will take advantage of the public transportation, which would have been running anyway.
In any event, I just need to adjust my expectations for a different kind of Dodge. Even if it's not what I'm used to and some of the things I personally looked forward to each time, it's still a terrific gathering of premier poets, and worth the effort to get used to something new.