Miami Poetry Collective on Pop-Up Poem Shops and the Future of Miami's Literary Scene

If you've ever been to a Wynwood Second Saturdays Art Walk, you've probably met the Miami Poetry Collective. They're the ones behind makeshift tables -- littered with vintage typewriters and half-empty cups of beer -- selling custom poems for a couple of bucks. The project is called Poem Depot, and it's the brainchild of poet and FIU professor Campbell McGrath who formed the collective with a group of graduate students at a bar back in 2008.

In addition to setting up a poem shop at events all around Miami, the collective publishes a DIY literary pub called Cent Journal. They're also featured in the upcoming 8th annual Tigertail, A South Florida Poetry Annual, and they'll be reading selected poems at a Books & Books launch this Thursday. New Times spoke to several members of the collective about inspirational drunkenness, poetic dissing, and what will happen when Miami goes under. The conversation got intense. So intense it ended in poetry.

New Times: How the collective get started?

Abel Folgar: The "collective" was inspired by savvy students who wanted to get in on the whole "free booze" scam the art world has been enjoying for many years now.

Scott Cunningham: No one came with the intention of starting or joining anything; just to drink a couple of beers at Zeke's and maybe read a few new poems aloud to one another. But once we'd been declared a collective, we started behaving as one. It was if the distinction had given us permission to act out. Which we did. Through email, a few of us formulated the idea of starting the Cent Journal series and the Poem Depot. The point of both was to further cement the idea of a literary community. Communities do things together, after all. They don't merely declare themselves as such.

And what was the intention of such a community?

SC: The intention was to make being a poet/writer in Miami a tolerable existence, as opposed to one of exile. Writing already involves a tremendous amount of solitude, and unlike artists, we don't really have openings or exhibits we can go to to meet, comment on another's work, etc. And this kind of exchange is not a luxury; it's absolutely essential for creative growth, not to mention personal happiness.

AF: I myself scammed my way into the collective. I am not, or have ever been an MFA candidate at the university but I did take courses with founding guru Campbell McGrath during my undergrad years there. This makes a lot of sense and it is really ginchy on the senses. And yes, I'm in it for the free booze.

The Poem Depot was a brilliant idea. Every time I've come across it there's a line of people wanting poems. What are the most popular themes that are requested?

Laura McDermott: Love/relationship-based. Well, at least the ones I've written. Reason: many think that's what a poem should be about.

Any poetry subjects stand out?

Yaddyra Peralta: There was a poem describing the taste of horseradish to someone who had never had it, an ode to Adam & the Ants, a plea to a beloved father re: the car a/c (too cold!), an acrostic to a friend nicknamed "The Brain" -- I must admit I was a tad tipsy on wine when I wrote this one. I dissed the friend and likened him to Pinky's not-so-brainy animated counterpart. The subject of the poem came back to high-five me.

Ha! It's kind of difficult to get mad when you've been dissed in beautiful prose. You know what else gets dissed all of the time? Miami. I've read that the collective is aiming to "address the lack of artistic infrastructure in a city with so much cultural energy." What are your hopes and vision for this city on the brink?

AF: We want the Marlins to build us a stadium from their huge coffers that they bilked the public trust with originally. Or at least a nice watering hole where everyone can come together, enjoy a nice drink, and hear something nice.

Pete Borrebach: Thanks to global warming, Miami will either be underwater or destroyed by a giant hurricane, so there's no real reason to envision a Miami of the future. We live for now. And right now, I see Miami opening up as a finest sheet of paper upon which all the creative people that care to may write their poems.

Care to decorate this fine sheet of paper right now?

YP: Future: Miami as a flat road-free space, wet and green, where we can all recognize each other.

Miami: afloat
on a sea of grass,
across the flat expanse
I see your determined waving,
O sweet friends,
I long to see your faces,
to smell the sawgrass,
the verdant water sustaining
our tumultuous paper rafts.


Dear Miami

There is no time --
left -- no future --
what oxide colonies --
ersatz coral -- will --
protect what's left --
now -- your grass shore --
so take this river
I am dreaming --
weave its currents --
page-scrape the muck --
ink-crush rust with oil --
get writing! Right now!

Hear the Miami Poetry Collective read some more of their poems at the book launch and reading of Tigertail, A South Florida Poetry Annual: Selected Poetry, Prose and Projects this Thursday at 8 p.m. at Books & Books (265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables). Call 305-324-4337 or visit The event is free.

Photo by Ian Witlen
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Gabriela Garcia