Tucked deep in the woods in western New Jersey, poets and poet-wannabes gathered along the remnants of the old Morris Canal under a gunmetal -gray sky you could hear the distant chant of the highway as the trucks in the distance went about their daily business.

Thousands of high school students ditched the confines of their four-wall classrooms and landed in Waterloo Village for the 11th Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

The sprawling grounds of the former lock and plane of the long-extinct Morris Canal is an exciting rural and remote scene to get-away from the brick city.

Copyright © 2006 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved

In between the breaks in the clouds when the sun shone down on the eclectically-dressed youths you could count nearly as many students inside the tent venues as wandering the backwoods of nature around the nearly 400 acre complex of old buildings and vanishing history of the worn and weary locks.

Other people, young and old, poets, teachers and friends of the same, were seen wandering the wood trails with a map that tells them superficially where they are and how to get where they think they want to go.

In the first tent I visited a poet named Daisy is using the F word, I don't sit down. I continue around the old blacksmith shop up the hill to where the women queue at an extra wide, wheelchair-accessible portable potty.

I find Tony Hoagland in the main tent in the middle or so of his presentation to a packed house. He reads a poem, repeats the poem, and dissects the humor.

In the food court by 11:30 the teens are lined up like they are buying Super Bowl tickets for $1 instead of fries, greasy foods, pretzels, pizza, pierogie and pull-pork sandwiches. The hamburger-hot dog line is remarkably short and $7 gets me two dogs and a Coke. Everywhere you see a portable potty you see a line of mostly girls waiting to use them.

Copyright © 2006 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved.


In the old church a few hours later, newspaper editor and early morning poet David Tucker reads some of his own poetry and some of his favorite poetry written by others. It's an unseasonably warm day in late September and the old church has no air conditioning, nor are the windows open.

Sweat pours down his temple as he reads. We sit in closed-in pews built about 200 years ago - and for people with much shorter legs whose knees likely didn't bump the pew in front.

The NJN TV crew set up the camera, lights and sound equipment - but this reading in the old church won't be on the public TV station until sometime next year.

Tucker reads despite the bright lights shining in his face and adding to the heat. He continues reading and talking as students straggle in, find a seat, settle in. He reads more, and talks more as the students straggle back out into the beautiful sun and plop down on the grassy hills alongside the river runs.

He handles the verse before him like a seasoned professor - quoting from memory appropriate bytes as fitting, if not from poems we know then from poetry we should know.

Rising at 5 each morning, Tucker works on one of the 150 or so poems he keeps open on his computer. He reads DAISY THE CAT from his LATE FOR WORK collection. Daisy sleeps the morning away as Tucker works on his poetry before heading to his day job at 10.

Copyright © 2006 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reservedDavid Tucker, at left

It doesn't hurt Tucker to have (incoming poet laurete) Donald Hall as one of his first mentors. But you don't have to read his dedication to know Tucker is serious about his poetry. You can see it in each of his poems.

You might wonder how long would it take to write a poem about your hometown? It took him 20 years to finish COLUMBUS DISCOVERS LINDEN, TENNESSEE. It took him that long to get the "texture of the town" and he's "still tinkering" with it after it's been published.

The best thing about the day is the notion that it's okay to write poetry. You don't have to downplay it as "verse" when the words are really poetry.

BORDERSIn a huge tent - nearly as big as the main tent at the festival - The Borders books and music people had the largest collection of poetry books for sale that I've ever seen.

Really, the poetry books went row after row in a near maze of alphabetical by author order. Along one side of the huge then were ten or more cash registers!

And out on the floor were helpful, really! helpful, sales people who could help you find a book - or go find the book while you stayed put and browsed. My dilemma - would you find the Paterson Literary Review under P or W for William Paterson? Answer - it was under collections! And I'd have never found it without the help of an astute Borders helper!

Kudos to the book store chain. They were giving 15% of the sales to the foundation!

It's tough to compete with teenagers let loose in the woods with the opposite sex and exploding hormones, but Thursday's poets certainly gave it their best shot.

Friday will tell if the teachers (only day) are more inclined to stay closer to the event tents and off the wooded paths.

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Copyright © 2006 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved. Content may not be used for commercial purposes without written permission.

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The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival 2006

LATE FOR WORK - David Tucker

SWEET RUIN - Tony Hoagland

Periodicals To Watch For:JOURNAL OF NEW JERSEY POETS - Issue 43
EXIT 13 Magazine - "The Crossroads of Poetry since 1988"

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