Poet Goes From Classroom to the Stage

An English and creative writing teacher at Tenafly High School, Gary J. Whitehead will share his own poetry at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark.

Rhyme Time: Gary J. Whitehead is among the featured poets at this year’s Dodge Poetry Festival.
Photo by Sarah Ratner

For years, Gary J. Whitehead has been bringing his Tenafly High School students to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. This year, for the first time, they will get to see and hear their teacher read his poems at the event.

Whitehead will be among more than 60 poets reading at the October 23-26 festival at NJPAC and other venues in Newark. He’ll read from the latest of his three books, A Glossary of Chickens (Princeton University Press, 2013), and some new work. Critic Stephen Burt, writing in the Yale Review, said of Whitehead, “[He’s] never bored: anything, the more humdrum the better—scrambled eggs, ‘pokeberry ink,’ a car battery—can prompt a real poem.”

Whitehead, 49, has been on the staff at Tenafly High School for 18 years, teaching English and creative writing. Hearing a poet read his or her own works, he says, is the ideal way to experience the emotional impact of the piece. “The study of poetry, I think, must include analysis and discussion,” Whitehead says. “But I also have my students get up and read, and when they do, the comprehension and excitement changes.”

In the past year, Whitehead, who lives in West Nyack, New York, has performed at poetry readings throughout the Northeast to support the book, occasionally tossing in other poems, some of which have recently appeared in the New Yorker.

His schedule can be relentless, but so is his love of language. His preferred method of relaxation: constructing crossword puzzles for publications like the New York Times.

For more information on the Dodge Poetry Festival, click here.

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