By Anuoluwa Akibu, V Form
Dodge Poetry Festival Reflection: She Felt Prosaic Poetic
On October 18, 2018, she came in wanting to improve her poetry. She felt prosaic. However, to her surprise, she entered a world far more different than she envisioned, a world of discussion rather than lecture, of insight rather than instruction. Instead of organized workshops to scrutinize her work in, she was given a program complete with introductory statements of the poets and a schedule of the events, the venues in which they were held, and the attending poets and the freedom to choose what she attended.
Prior to the Dodge Poetry Festival, she simply felt uncomfortable with her poetry, as she could not identify her voice in it. She forced strange words on a paper for outward validation and ignored her internal articulation. Her so-called “self-expression” was, in truth, silencing her. This was weird for her because creative writing has always been one of her passions, yet she was creating barriers between it and herself.
Of course, her voice was not entirely lost, but the Dodge Poetry Festival was an opening to an overcoming of this feeling of mediocrity, and she wasn’t disappointed.
There were many accomplished poets at the Dodge Festival who shared their stories of coming to terms with themselves and their poetry and where their writing stems from. I received an abundance of advice and found direction in the guiding words of the poets I heard. In the community, I was not alone in finding it difficult to translate my authentic self onto paper.I often want to write only when I know what to write, but by doing this I only get in my way and overthink the storyline. I admit I am a bit of a perfectionist, but as Gregory Pardlo1, one of the poets, said: “Keep writing until the poem does something you didn’t expect it to do.” It may not seem linear at first, but I learned poems are susceptible to change, and it’s okay to leave a poem unfinished. I should allow the poem to let me go and feel closure at the last line, as Sharon Olds2puts it, rather than force an unnatural ending. Most importantly, I learned from the panel “You Were My First” featuring Eileen Myles3, Sharon Olds, Sapphire4, and Gregory Pardlo, that whether I write cohesively or incongruously my poems should be ones I understand and should not be altered it to fit someone else’s lenses.
Though I am not new to the poetry scene, my mindset about poetry has certainly changed. I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember, and it was never an option to stop. My mother saw potential in me and persistently encouraged me to write creatively, often submitting my works to competitions despite my reluctance. However, for a while, I never thought it to be more than just “fancy” writing. I didn’t know poetry to could be a refuge or a place to pour your deepest, darkest secrets and find solace or a catalyst for change. Knowing this, poetry allows me to give legitimacy to where I’m from and the world surrounding me. It is a never-ending journey of self-discovery and growth.
On October 21, 2018, I left a world far more different than I envisioned, into a world of reassurance and acceptance of the unknown. I left realizing that I was not unsettled with “how” I wrote poetry, but “why” I wrote it. I felt poetic.
[The descriptions of the poets taken from the Dodge Poetry Festival program.]
1: Gregory Pardlo’s collection Digestwon the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts; his first collection Totem was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. He is Poetry Editor of Virginia Quarterly Review. Air Traffic, a memoir in essays, was released by Knopf in April.
2: Born in San Francisco, Sharon Olds studied at Stanford University and Columbia University. Named New York State Poet Laureate (1998 – 2000), Olds teaches graduate poetry workshops at New York University and the writing workshop she helped found at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely disabled (now in its 30th year). She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science. Her poetry collection, One Secret Thing, was a finalist for the T. S. Eliot Prize & the Forward Prize, and her collection,Stag’s Leap, was named one of Oprah’s Favorite Reads of 2012 and won the T.S. Eliot Prize, and also the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In 2015 she was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2016 Sharon Olds received the Wallace Stevens Award, given annually to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.
3: Eileen Myles the author of more than twenty books, including Evolution, Afterglow(a dog memoir),Chelsea Girls, and I Must Be Living Twice: New & Selected Poems 1974-2014. Myles’s many honors include four Lambda Literary Awards, the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, Creative Capital’s Literature Award as well as their Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant. Myles lives in Marfa, Texas, and New York City.
4: Sapphire is the author of two bestselling novels, Push and The Kid. Push was made into the Academy Award-winning major motion film Precious, and the film adaptation received the Academy Award for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Sapphire’s work has been translated into thirteen languages and has been adapted for stage in the United States and Europe. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in The Black Scholar, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review,The Teacher’s Voice, The New Yorker, Spin, and Bomb.
Anu Akibu is a V Form boarding student from Worcester, Massachusetts. She likes reading, acting in the school plays, and hanging out with friends.