Dodge Q&A: Michele Russo

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The Dodge Q&A series is designed to introduce you to Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation staff and check in with what they’re learning and thinking about as they visit with nonprofits around the state. They will also reveal a a few things about themselves you might not have known.

With the Dodge Poetry Festival coming up on Oct. 23 to 26 (full details here), we will be speaking to some of the people who help make it happen or who will be playing a special role. 

Today we talk to Michele Russo, Poetry Coordinator: 


What’s your role in organizing the Dodge Poetry Festival?

A lot of what I do has nothing to do with poetry. I am the primary coordinator for all things Festival — I connect with our partners at NJPAC and venues in Newark; I put together timelines and schedules for various aspects of the Festival; I manage all of our communication and outreach to high schools and teachers; and I help manage volunteers and temporary staff. We’re such a small staff that we all wind up working on everything in some ways, which makes it fun. This year I spearheaded our advertising on the NJ TRANSIT  lines which I’m very happy about. I do get to do “poetry” things too, like writing blogs which introduce the public to our Festival Poets. As a person who doesn’t like the spotlight or need to be the star, my role is perfect for me.

What are a few Festival events you are most looking forward to this year?

It’s impossible to say — there are too many good things happening.  One of the things I really love is observing people walking around, talking with each other and having that “wowed” look on their face when something just blew them away. Seeing someone interact with a poet they admire or have just discovered is always wonderful.

There are so many beautiful moments where people feel so connected to each other and to themselves. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.

Before I worked here, I attended the Festival several times and had those wowed moments myself. Knowing I could help make that happen for other people is what motivates me.

Do you have a favorite Newark eatery?

The Green Chicpea is my favorite right now.  Their food is fresh, healthy and served quickly and with a smile. I was there over the summer when it was really hot out and they came around giving customers cups of ice, which I thought was above and beyond the kind of service you usually get in a casual restaurant.

Are you a poet? Tell us about your creative process.

I consider myself a hobby poet. I’m not at all disciplined about it. I often go to workshops just so I will be forced to write. As far as my creative process, I am generally a very antsy and busy person and I get my best ideas while in motion — hiking, running, cooking, walking the dog, driving. I find that once my hands or body are busy, I’m much more able to open up to new ideas.

What are some of your favorite sources of creativity or inspiration – any specific blogs, books or places you like to visit?

I’m a big proponent of re-reading books. I read Moby Dick for the first time two years ago (just after the 2012 Festival) and I am continually rereading it. Something about digging deeper into that story is so appealing to me.

Even though I eat pretty healthy, I love greasy restaurants where people have worked there a long time and where there are a lot of regulars. I like feeling like I’m just a fly on the wall of a scene that happens over and over and would happen without me there.

Also, this is a very New Jersey one, but I like going to Ikea in Elizabeth and watching planes take off. There’s a perfect view of Newark Airport from the café.

I am a huge podcast listener: Love and Radio, The Gist, Radiolab, This American Life, 99% Invisible, My Brother My Brother and Me, Strangers, The Moth, and Sherman Alexie’s new one A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment.

Learn more about the Dodge Poetry Festival here. Stay tuned for next week’s Tuesday Dodge Q&A with Dodge CEO Chris Daggett. 

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