On February 18th, 2022, Erik Pedersen featured Poetry in America in The Orange County Register’s “Books” section. Pedersen interviewed Elisa New on the challenges and delights of hosting and directing Poetry in America.
Professor New discusses how, when discussing poems for television, often some of their visual context can be restored. For example: A.R. Ammons’ poems can be reunited with his paintings, and Walt Whitman’s & Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems can be reunited with the illustrated magazines that featured them.
When prompted to find a favorite moment in the new season, Professor New said: “I do love when Gloria Estefan bursts into song—that an important recording artist of our time felt a poem so deeply, and felt that it was so consonant with what she was trying to do as an artist, that she had to sing it—it was definitely one of my favorite moments of the season. That is also something that happened in the seasons before, as when I asked Herbie Hancock, “What do you think about this Langston Hughes poem?” and he just turned to the piano and started to play.”
When asked how far she would go for poetry, Professor New responded succinctly: “Really far.” Before elaborating: “People write poems. Sometimes the poems are just about poetry, but often they’re fed by passions that they have. Either they’re like Whitman – they’re fired up by the political and cultural issues of their day – or in the case of Ammons, he was a science nerd. He studied general science in college, and as he walked around the world, looking at the features of nature, he was looking both as someone who loved Romantic poetry and its tradition of looking at the natural world, and as somebody who looked at a rock and thought, how was it formed? Who looked at a stream and thought about gravity. Every poem is not just sitting in your English class; It’s touching other worlds.”
In addition to Orange County Register, the interview was simultaneously published in newspapers throughout Southern California, including Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, The Daily Breeze, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, and Riverside Press-Enterprise.