The Newark Anniversary Poems
Edited by Henry Wellington Wack
Published by Laurence J. Gomme
APRIL IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH
In 1916, the City of Newark celebrated its 250th anniversary with a flurry of activities. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum – known for his monumental projects at Mount Rushmore and Stone Mountain, Georgia – was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture, “The Bridge Memorial,” which was placed outside the Newark Public Library and dedicated on May 10, 1916. A poster contest was organized, and winning designs were issued as postage
stamps to mark the event. Another commemoration that took place was a poetry competition which offered $1,000 in prizes for poems selected for inclusion in The Newark Anniversary Poems, a volume celebrating the Brick City’s “historical, industrial, social, aesthetic or civic life.” The contest solicited many literary formats including odes, epics, sonnets, blank verse, ballads, lyrics, vers libre, songs, satires, limericks and jingles. The competition opened in January 1916 and closed in December of that same year. More than 900 entries were received and winnowed to roughly 550 submissions for review by the committee of seven judges. Poets from forty-two states (of the 48 in existence at the time) and six countries submitted work to the competition, demonstrating the wide interest in the city and event. First prize was won by Clement Wood, of New York City for his poem “The Smithy of God,” a paean to Newark’s bustling streetscapes and industrious citizens. The poem, “To a City Sending Him Advertisements,” by expatriate modernist poet Ezra Pound, was also featured in the volume.
Seton Hall University’s Department of Archives and Special Collections holds this copy of The Newark Anniversary Poems autographed by editor Henry Wellington Wack to Leonard Dreyfuss. Leonard Dreyfuss was a well-known business owner, resident and public servant in the city of Newark. He was awarded “Citizen of the Year in 1942.” This book is part of the Leonard Dreyfuss papers, a rich repository of varied materials that document Dreyfuss’ life including his time as advertising executive and service in the Civil Defense. The Newark Anniversary Poems is but one of many connections New Jersey’s largest city has with poetry.
Many famous poets hail from the City of Newark including native Amiri Baraka, the once Poet-Laureate of New Jersey whose activism on behalf of Black Liberation and support for Fidel Castro, among other things, put him at the center of numerous controversies. Baraka is the father of current Newark Mayor, Ras Baraka. Although beat poet Allen Ginsberg is more closely associated with the city of Paterson, he was born in Newark. Ginsberg is best known for his epic poem “Howl” which railed against conformity and ultimately left him defending his writing in a court of law against charges of obscenity. Ginsberg prevailed, the judge citing freedom of speech in the poet’s favor. Writer Judith Viorst, also a native Newarker, earned recognition for her journalism, poetry and children’s literature. Poet Mwatabu S. Okantah, currently an Associate Professor and Poet in Residence in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University, hails from Newark. Early 20th century poet Stephen Crane was born in the city in 1871.
Since 2010, Newark has been home to the Dodge Poetry Festival. The Dodge Foundation’s website notes the city’s long engagement with the arts – and poetry in particular – in substantiation of its choice to host the event in the city. Outside of the festival, numerous venues present open-mics and poetry readings throughout the city including at libraries, galleries, universities and artist-run spaces in the city’s many wards. Seton Hall University has its own strong appreciation of and bond with poetry. Professor John Harrington, a faculty member in the English department from 1956-1995, founded Poetry in the Round in 1982. The acclaimed series of readings continues into the present day and has brought many notable writers to campus, including Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Jamaica Kinkead and Joyce Carol Oates.  Presently, the series is being presented virtually. You can view the calendar for a listing of upcoming Poetry in the Round events.
The images and materials shown here are but a small part of the vast patrimony available to students, faculty and researchers. For access to this or other objects in our collections, complete a research request form to set up an appointment or contact us at 973-761-9476.
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