airleigh Dickinson University’s WAMFEST: The Words and Music Festival capped its third year with an incredible merging of the popular and literary arts: pairing two New Jersey natives, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bruce Springsteen and former United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, on May 6 at the College at Florham.
Four hundred students and members of the FDU community had an unprecedented opportunity to hear these two living legends discuss the meaning of words and music. Pinsky, whose background is in academia, and Springsteen, who spoke about his art and creative process in an academic setting for the first time, met at a sound check earlier in the day. Though they were born in the same hospital, the two had never met before.
The event, titled “Jersey Rain,” featured Springsteen and Pinsky in conversation and performance with moderator and WAMFEST artist-in-residence John Wesley Harding, a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter also known as novelist Wesley Stace. The two discussed their inspirations, messages and methods along with performing uniquely comparative poems and songs. Springsteen recited Pinsky’s “Samurai Song” and transitioned into his own “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” while Pinksy read his iconic “Shirt” accompanied by Springsteen on the guitar and harmonica. The two joined in a reading of Pinsky’s “Jersey Rain,” then sung “The Promised Land” together. To close it out, Harding led a performance of Springsteen’s “Wreck on the Highway” before opening the floor for questions.
This year’s festival featured Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders, a critically acclaimed variety show, in December. In April, WAMFEST featured Australian novelist Peter Carey. The four-day festival in May included John Doe and Exene Cervenka, founders of the legendary punk band X; “Eugene Mirman and His Pretty Good Friends (Who Are Also Comedians)”; and Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who was an inspiration for the creation of WAMFEST. Muldoon was the first major poet to cross the genres of poetry and music when he collaborated with the late rock icon Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London”).
When WAMFEST creator David Daniel started the festival, he hoped to “celebrate the literary quality of popular music and to break down the barriers between the community and academia.” Assistant professor of creative writing, director of FDU’s undergraduate creative writing program and a poet and songwriter himself, Daniel says, “The whole idea of WAMFEST is to allow students to have an intimate experience with people who are not generally available in that way while establishing a world-wide reputation for FDU as an innovator in the arts and in arts education.”
Daniel says, “By bringing together writers — poets, novelists, journalists — and songwriters, I hope to create a forum that bridges the gap between ‘the people’s art’ and the ‘art of the academy,’ and to create a model for teaching and celebrating the arts across the country.”
WAMFEST is sponsored by FDU’s Maxwell Becton College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Student Life and the creative writing program at FDU, with the generous support of Bonnie, BA’75 (T), and FDU Trustee Stewart Krentzman, BA’73 (T), and Gourmet Dining Services. Past guests include Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, performer and novelist, and rock historian and biographer Dave Marsh.