If you were taking a casual stroll down Ocean Drive yesterday afternoon, you may have noticed something peculiar. Beyond the everyday array of half naked weirdos, sand-caked and sunburned tourists, and steadily inching traffic that usually molds the atmosphere of South Beach's most popular strip, there was a less common peppering of sounds echoing from Lummus Park's concrete boardwalk - a bullhorn, chanting in electrified, tinny tones; cries of "VIVA!" carrying through the air; pots and wooden spoons banging and clanging to no sensible rhythm and deep Caribbean drum beats churning from bongos slung across sweaty chests.
Is this Hialeah?, you may have asked yourself. Has Calle Ocho somehow slid into the streets of Miami Beach via osmotic pressure?
No. This was the march of O, Miami Poetry Festival's Poetry is Dead Parade.
O, Miami founder P. Scott Cunningham.
Making their way through the winding path of Lummus Park, the parade featured reincarnated writers, youthful poets spitting serious verse, and a rickshaw being towed by a man in a skeletal jump suit.
And, of course, as P. Scott Cunningham of the University of Wynwood had promised, a coffin.
The parade was undoubtedly a jovial occasion, despite its slightly macabre theme. Apart from the few dead poets wandering with the crowd and the coffin, the ever uplifting motif of death could be seen in the form of cardboard signs that hung around the necks of certain paraders with words like consumption and expired and heron (perhaps heroin?) sharpied on them.
Miami's own Dead Poets' Society.
There was no shortage of energy to the group, although fewer got dressed up than organizers might have hoped. (Those damnable summer days can be such a pain.) The sound of metal kitchen wares clattered along the route through Lummus Park. There was also Afrobeta's Cuci Amador, a candy-colored parade master of sorts, who looked as if she'd not heard word that Ultra had come and gone, with a megaphone that blared everything from "POETRY IS NOT DEAD!" to "¡DAME CROQUETICA, SABE FRESQUECITA!"
She also decided to recite that fine bit of lyricism that is the infinitely elegant hook of Pitbull's ode, Culo. It was indeed a high moment for the resuscitation of verse.
The future of poetry.
In all seriousness, there was a fine amount of talent on display over the course of the march. Different points in the park were witness to a handful of readings from long buried poets like Jose Martí, Walt Whitman, and Sylvia Plath. There were also performances from the White Rose Theater Group and students from the Miami Arts School, as well as a small child who read a poem by Emily Dickinson and managed to pronounce the word "spigot" perfectly without even a moment's difficulty.
Zombie Walt Whitman!
Nearing the end of the parade route, Vana Rose, an 18 year-old senior at North Miami Senior High School who's been performing for the last two years, let loose a powerful spoken word piece that dealt with blood, Jesus, rebirth, and personal identity, and left the crowd in awe with the impact of her visceral words.
It's Vana Rose, brah.
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Rose felt the parade was a great event and stood as an overall success, noting that passing observers "were pleasantly surprised. Most of them didn't realize what was going on, so I had to explain a few times, but I think they were genuinely interested and gave positive energy."
And while a sizable portion of onlookers may have been puzzled by the sarcastic nature of the parade - declaring that poetry alive and well by marching with a banner emblazoned with the phrase "POETRY IS DEAD" -- there was indeed a great deal of excitement and fascination in every passing gaze and a clear engagement with the poets that took to the streets this fine, balmy Sunday.