I went from writing poetry to writing news stories.
For a long time, I worked on poems. Through poetry, I played with language, learned how to make sense of things, and got better at understanding other people. Like a lot of good journalism, poetry helped me see the world in different ways.
This week, Newark, New Jersey, will host the largest poetry festival in the United States. There will be 120 events with more than 70 poets over four days and nine stages. The New York Times called the festival “a literary bonanza” in a preview.
I feel like I’m coming home when I go to the festival. I started working at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, which runs the Dodge Poetry Festival, six months ago as the Director for Journalism and Sustainability. I’ll spend the weekend with some of the poets whose work first made me want to write.
William Carlos Williams, an American poet, once said, “It’s hard to get the news from poems, but men die every day because they don’t have what’s there.” Still, there are more and more attempts to mix poetry and journalism. The Off/Page project was made by the Center for Investigative Journalism and the literary nonprofit Youth Speaks. It combines spoken word with investigative journalism. In 2009, Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, switched out its reporters for a day with famous poets and authors. In 2012, NPR invited poets into the newsroom to write poems about the day’s news.
In an article for the Irish Times, which was later quoted in the Guardian, Olivia O’Leary says, “At their best, journalism and poetry try to tell the truth. At their worst, journalism and poetry do the opposite of what they are supposed to do. The main difference is that a lot of journalism reports on events as they happen, which is an important job. What poets can do is to give us a distance, from events and from ourselves.” Scott Gregory of This Land Press says, “Poetry helps us face the news” in this way.
From Liberia to Syria to Ukraine to Ferguson and more, there has been a lot of bad news in the last few months. Even though poets may not be reporting the news this weekend, they are still very interested in it. When you look at the festival’s schedule, it’s easy to see how current events and social issues are brought up in the debates and talks.