Earlier this year, the American Poetry Review elected Penn senior Michelle Newman to its board, marking the first time an undergrad has been invited to join the board. Since it began publication in 1972, the APR has printed the works of more than 1,500 writers, and its advisers include some of poetry’s heavy hitters: Philip Roth, Joyce Carole Oates, Cynthia Ozick, John Ashbery.
With her senior spring in full swing, Newman—who keeps busy as women’s rugby captain, Bloomers chairwoman, and a Philosophy, Politics and Economics major—took time out to answer a few questions about her new APR board member status and her quest to “bring poetry back en vogue” with her peers.
Are you a poet yourself?
I am a poet! Though writing or English is not my major, I have always had a deep love for poetry, which was actually born out of my passion for music. I would write music for piano or guitar when I was younger and then I needed words to put over it. (I also just needed words to get out all that teen angst!).
I’ve always had a knack for writing and this past summer I got a scholarship to the Lesley University Writers Conference in Cambridge, Mass., for a workshop in poetry and I studied under a great poet, who we called the “Zen Buddha” of poetry, Afaa M. Weaver. At the conference I developed the idea for my manuscript-in-progress, which is a book of poems about technology and relationships.
I have a strong belief in poetry and its unique ability to convey a message that may not be apparent in the words chosen. It relies on meter and shape and even the human voice to carry emotions and ideas that touch us individually more than any other writing.
How did you wind up on the APR board?
I work for a law firm downtown called Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, LLP and the lawyer I work for at the firm, Jerome J. Shestack, has become the ultimate mentor to me, helping me to expand my horizons and build my experience in every way. He is on the board of the American Poetry Review and they had recognized the need for a youthful, possibly college outreach on the board, a presence that was in direct contact with a younger generation and could contribute ideas to the development of projects and funding, etc. So, Jerry campaigned for my election to the board, and I met with the editors to talk about my role and submitted a resume to the board for review. With strong support from Jerry and a debate at the following board meeting, I was elected in the fall as the first ever undergraduate member of the board.
What are some of your responsibilities as an APR board member?
My responsibilities include those typical of other boards, such as voting in other board members; adjusting and reviewing the annual budget; fundraising; donation/contribution of my own; attending quarterly board meetings; [and] working in close contact with the editors on projects and prize proposals.
My personal goal is to bring poetry (both written and read) back en vogue with my generation and the generations after me. It often seems that people don’t feel they can approach poetry, but I want to show that it’s just the opposite — delving into any random poem, even if incomprehensible to you, could end in your new favorite line in the English language or a new usage for an age-old word that you never thought of. To this end, poetry gives insight, depicts trauma, begets a tranquility that trumps stress (the modern killer), and produces vision without blinders.
How to get that across to my generation and beyond cannot be forced, so it’s still a work in progress. Events that bring poetry to various Philadelphia communities are varied, but not always successful. My challenge is to find a way to get it into the daily spotlight.