O, Miami: A Month of Verse In Our Paradise of the Perverse

For those who pay any attention, who take care to look a bit further than the glossy pamphlet veneer, there's a great deal more to what makes Miami the Magic City than strung-out nights under neon on South Beach, and half-naked candy kids marching down Biscayne like a horde of zombies. This town is beautiful and blunt and brutal, it's surreal and sublime and stupid, it's decadent and depraved and ceaselessly, wonderfully different.

The more you think about how inspiring it can be, in all its chaos and magnificence and degeneracy, it makes one wonder why Miamians hasn't got more of a penchant for poetry when there's so much here to put to pen.

Fortunately, for one month of the year, Miami is saturated with verse upon the arrival of the O, Miami Poetry Festival. Since 2011, the month of April has been made into a citywide celebration of all things poetic, with an array of events ranging from readings and recitations by brilliant writers, to parades celebrating the life and death of poetry and the poets who've practiced it. This time around, the docket of events and projects makes it pretty apparent that 2014 will be the festival's most interesting year yet.

"We typically do our biggest event at the end of the month and we're doing it at the beginning of the month this year," noted P. Scott Cunningham, founder and director of O, Miami. "It's on April 5th at Soundscape Park at the New World Symphony, and it's the first time anyone's done a poetry wallcast, in the same way the City of Miami Beach shows movies on the wall and the symphony does their wallcasts of their concerts. We have two of the biggest poets in the United States reading, and it's going to have the same in-depth, multiple camera angle production-level feel that you get with the New World Symphony, but with poetry."

When Cunningham says "two of the biggest poets in the United States," it is a statement wholly devoid of exaggeration. The two poets in question are Robert Hass and Kay Ryan - both of whom are former Poet Laureates of the United States. For those unfamiliar with the significance of being named the nation's official poet, other former laureates include Robert Penn Warren, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Rita Dove, and Maya Angelou.

If not one but two Poet Laureates weren't enough, there will also be a reading by National Book Award Winner, Nikky Finney. Put quite simply, if you can make your way to Soundscape Park on April 5th, you are going to hear some extraordinarily talented writers filling the grounds with some incredibly lovely words, and you will not be disappointed.

The month-long festival will pepper the whole metropolis with poetic celebrations big and small, and some promise to be pretty damn colorful. On a yet-to-be-decided day in April, actor Ivan Lopez will ride a white horse down Calle Ocho dressed as Jose Martí and hand out roses with poems penned by the famed Cuban poet and national hero. Imagine, if you will, the joy of seeing a man dressed in a fine black suit and sporting a well-kept mustache ambling along Calle Ocho on a white steed, handing you a rose and a poem before he continues to ride deeper into heart of Little Havana.

Throughout the month, Gramps will play host to a poet in residence. Over the course of April's 30 days, 30 different poets will serve one-night residencies at the Wynwood watering hole, with the honor of their own reserved stool at the end of the bar and a free beer for each poem produced on a napkin.

"We're going to have a little plaque at the last stool of the bar where the residency will take place, and it'll be reserved for which ever poet is signed up to do it that night. Anyone can apply, all you have to do is email us a short poem about booze and then we'll make the schedule," explained Cunningham.

One of the coolest running programs they've put together is the Edgewater Poetry and Athletic Club. Through a partnership with the Related Group, which now owns a sizable chunk of territory on 31st street east of Biscayne Boulevard, the folks in charge of the festival have managed to get their hands on a two-story house to be used as a wellness center and laid back writer's retreat, complete with a pool, a basketball court, yoga, and of course, readings and talks with all sorts of writers and writerly people.

"We've never done anything like this before," stated Cunningham, who sounded unmistakably excited when he described the plans for the Edgewater Poetry and Athletic Club. The house will also feature installations and artwork by BIP (Bureau of Public Interventions), an artistic duo from Guatemala dedicated to the creation, beautification, and rejuvenation of public spaces. "I don't want to divulge too much of what they're doing because I want people to kind of discover it themselves, but they are going to be doing things that will leak out of the house in a way and connect the house to what's around there and make it part of the neighborhood," hinted Cunningham.

The truth of the matter is that 2014's O, Miami Poetry Festival has too many things cooking to list in a single article, but damned if it isn't worth making some noiseabout. The plans they've set into motion stand as a fine testament to the leaps and bounds P. Scott Cunningham and everyone involved have made in these first few years to bring a festival that breeds a much-needed outburst of verse to Miami. They have been consistently ambitious, and what's more, they have succeeded with every festival in spreading their infectious enthrallment with poetry.

"We've tried to increase the scope of it, the diversity of who's involved, and the quality of who's involved. And, you know," Cunningham remarked, "it's fun to try and top what we did the previous year, and I don't know if we'll succeed, but we're going to try."

For more information about the O, Miami Poetry Festival visit

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Travis Cohen is a writer for Miami New Times and covers subjects ranging from arts and architecture to marijuana and monkeys with herpes. He graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in English in 2012 and began working with New Times shortly thereafter. He was born and raised in Miami.