O, Miami Aims to Inspire Verse, From Symphonies to Barstools

Travel across the Magic City from Little Havana to Lemon City, Hialeah to Homestead, or South Beach to Surfside and you'll be serenaded by a sonorous canto of contrasting voices.

For interdisciplinary artists Juana Meneses and Leila Leder Kremer, that multicultural heart is the inspiration for "Home: Beyond Geography," their new conceptual project. The pair will crisscross the county this month armed with pens and postcards to capture local residents' personal stories.

"We want people from different neighborhoods to share their impressions, stories, and memories," explains the 35-year-old Meneses, who moved to Miami from Bogota in the late '80s. "Many people who live here came from other places, and this is a way for them to relate their experiences of our city in an index that is highly personal while remaining open-ended."

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

Their project is just one of a score of events in the monthlong O, Miami Poetry Festival. Through innovative, inspiring, and off-the-wall ideas like the postcard project, the festival's organizers hope to inspire our metropolis' 2.6 million residents to experience the joy of poetry during the citywide celebration of verse.

"Miami is full of really great artists who are helping our mission to deliver poetry to each and every person in the county in a creative fashion," says P. Scott Cunningham, a poet and founder and director of the festival. "The idea was to collaborate with artists who have developed projects incorporating poetry and appeals to broader audiences in a way that's interesting."

Cunningham, who started O, Miami in 2011, has enjoyed success by saturating South Florida with poetry through any means possible. In past years, he's had airplanes drag banners through the sky inscribed with poems and had another artist "poetry bomb" thrift store garments with tags emblazoned with verse sewn into the T-shirts and pants on the sly.

This year's lineup is O, Miami's most expansive yet and boasts an arsenal of unexpected moments beyond traditional readings and lectures.

The festival's main event takes place Saturday at SoundScape Park in South Beach, where O, Miami is partnering with New World Symphony. Former U.S. Poets Laureate Robert Hass and Kay Ryan will join National Book Award-winner Nikki Finney for an intimate reading. From 5 to 8 p.m., visitors can lounge on blankets and watch a live projection on the 7,000-square-foot symphony wall while enjoying free music and entertainment during what Cunningham calls South Florida's biggest poetry reading ever.

At Gramps, a popular Wynwood watering hole, 30 writers — one for each day of the month — will hold court, swapping verse scribbled on cocktail napkins for beer. At the end of the month, their musings will be published in a zine documenting all the booze-fueled creativity.

If you're in Little Havana during April, keep watch for actor Ivan Lopez, who will regale spectators as he rides down Calle Ocho atop a white steed channeling the spirit of the poet and revolutionary José Martí while handing out poems attached to roses.

For artists like Meneses and Leder Kremer, the festival's goal to deliver a poem to every soul in our city offers a chance to explore Miami-Dade's unique themes of identity, home, and mobility. That's why the pair created a postcard with a world map on one side and what they call a "psycho-geographical" space on the other for local residents to relate their own histories.

"When I travel and tell people I'm from Miami, they usually think our city is a party town only known for the beaches and tourism," says Leder Kremer, who moved here in 1999 from Argentina. "That has made me reflect through the years how much Miami is a place in rapid transition."

Ideally, the postcards will unite Miami's unique cultural pockets through the power of storytelling. "We want to connect the Korean community living in Doral with those in Little Havana and beyond," Leder Kremer says. "This offers us a way to reach out to the average person who might not be interested in either poetry or art but still wants to tell their individual story."

Cunningham calls the duo's low-tech approach to social media a unique way to explore Miami as a collection of individual neighborhoods that combine to relate a revealing story of our city. "What they are doing in essence is creating one big chain letter that relates the story of Miami's bigger picture," he says.

They're not the only artists fusing poetry with creative endeavors this April. Returning to O, Miami is local artist Agustina Woodgate, who turned heads with her "Poetry Bombing" project during the festival's inaugural edition.

This year, Woodgate has worked with poet Mary Ruefle to create a limited-edition scratch-off lottery ticket. "What we did was to create 5,000 lottery tickets you use your fingernails or a coin to erase and unveil original text by Reufle," Woodgate says. "If you expose the words after scratching the card and they match words printed at the top, they yield a prize."

Woodgate and Ruefle's "Scratch Poems" will be distributed at locations ranging from O, Miami headquarters to Gramps, Lotus House, and local businesses, says the artist, who calls the poetry festival "an exceptional platform for collaboration and dream projects."

O, Miami's poetic ambitions amp up a notch this year thanks to the new Edgewater Poetry & Athletics Club, a partnership with the Related Group. The two-story-house-cum-community-wellness-center, located off NE 31st Street and Biscayne Boulevard, will be open throughout April for visitors to drop in for poetry readings, water aerobics, yoga, meditation, and zine fairs or just to chew the fat with artists and writers. There's even a poetry-slash-basketball tournament planned for the backyard court.

While visiting the soul-uplifting boho hangout, don't miss artwork and installations by Guatemala's BIP (Bureau of Public Interventions), known for its arresting forays into beautifying and rejuvenating dreary urban spaces.

"This collaborative duo typically intervenes into ugly public places and transforms them through their artwork," Cunningham says. "Here they will be creating installations inside the house, painting on the building's walls, and making work that will spill out into the street to unify the neighborhood."

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