Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Day the Poetry Died

A couple of weeks after my CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft) in 2008 I found my way to the Dodge Poetry Festival that was held a few miles from my home. Still physically weak , my soul also required a shot of spiritual adrenaline and I was called to this gathering of poets from around the world.It was a festival that was held for the past twenty two years every two years in of all places Northwestern New Jersey!It's been featured on PBS television and written about in books and magazines. I had the opportunity to attend five of these festivals previously and was present to see and hear Poets Laureate Billy Collins, Robert Pinsky, Stanley Kunitz, Ted Kooser, Robert Hass, Ed Hirsch and master poets such as Mark Doty, Lucille Clifton and my hero of early poetic and manly journey - Robert Bly. "The Woodstock of poetry" has been its label.One year it rained all weekend and I believe I heard Carlos Santana's drummers off in the distance as we slid in the mud from tent to tent.

Coming from a narrow escape from the grips of the grim reaper I was grasping for hope and optimism on what would might become my last visit . I was so anxoius that I sought out and met with poet Ted Kooser,a businessman turned poet, and shared with him my surgery,my new life and yet to be celebrated newly found song of the second chance dance. Though he looked at me with an uncomfortable sympathetic grin he autographed signed my book. I was a seeker and I found him!

But this visit to these hallowed grounds was also just days since my friend's tragic suicide.He had lost hope . His favorite poet was Robert Frost and it seemred he didn't take Frost's words to heart.It seems his drastic painfilled act was a precursor to the major economic catastrophy of what was about to consume the the world. I still wonder if he knew what was coming. He was very close to major players in the investment banking world and if you saw him or saw where he worked you wouldn't expect him to be a lover of poetry.Maybe it was as simple as banking and poetry are like oil and water.

"A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How that music(poetry) used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, theyd be happy for a while.

But february made me shiver
With every paper Id deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldnt take one more step

I cant remember if I cried..." (from American Pie, Don McLean)

We all know what happened to the economy at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009.It was February 2009 ,I think, when I read another shocking obit.The Dodge Foundation was cancelling future poetry festivals. The economic plaque of the world had found its way to clogging the arteries of the heart of poetry. But the Dodge Foundation assured the world that even though the festival was gone poetry was not dead and the foundation would still find ways to serve,but on a much smaller scale. Sounding much like my cardiologist, "courage" they said.

Someone mentioned"As long as some hearts hope and long as trees bloom, birds fly and sing , rivers flow and mountains kiss the clouds,...there will be poetry." With death there is life.

Listen to Billy Collins read his poem "The First Night." Here is a link of reading three poems including the second "The First Night" at last fall's festival.That's me over on his right side about 3/4 the way up in the audiennce.LOL

I have also included my little farewell and thanks to the festival.

Dodge Requiem

I didn’t know it would be the last gathering
Of voices calling out
In the wilderness.
I didn’t know that when I first heard
The greek chorus chanting
That some economic wind
Would try as hard as it could
to blow out their flame .
I didn’t know that it would come to end before
My own soul would transcend this existence.
Part of my heart’scheduled rehabilitaion -
I wonder and wander now,
weathered worn journeyman,
“Was all this just some cruel joke or ploy.?”
Remembering…Companion searching souls
On our way to Emmaus
Together we anxiously listened
To the weekend’s wind,
Fed together at the mecca of words.
I parked myself at heaven’s opened gate
But the meter was running out of coins and time.
Remembering…Another year, another day
Brown eyed rock and roll woman to be
a seeker numbered 21
Became consumed with delight
A spirit inebriated by a unique Collins.

Arisans ,philoshophers, searchers,
discovers of the eight or nine great mysteries
Seers and Finders of a light in their own right
deserved of the crown of laureate.
Inspirers, consolers, wisdom word weavers.
Over the years their blessings cast out
To the throngs yearning for something more.
One crowned prince peeled back his layers
Humbled recollections of his own illumination
From his private odyssey,
The best was yet to come.
Would I do anything different
If I had known that this pilgrimmage
would be one last procession in collaborative communion?
Filled with hope and champagne
hopped the bus with the troubador
To Atlantic City where everything comes back.

-- J. Sobecki


  1. I hope the festival returns in some incarnation - and out in nature (rather than an urban setting).

    You may want to read my two posts from the past weekend on nature & the garden and mindfulness at

  2. Funny, I was driving up to college with my mom on the last day of Easter break and American Pie comes on the radio and I said that it is my favorite song ever. Coincidence?



  3. Did you write Dodge Requiem? It's good :-)