Poetry gets a bad rap. It's usually associated with dead white guys, British accents, sonnets, things that rhyme with gourd, and Robert Frost. And though all the songs on your iPod can be technically described as poetry, they aren't. Because to do so would be to admit you like poetry. But as P. Scott Cunningham aptly puts it: "Without poetry, we don't exist." Indeed.
Cunningham is the founder of the literary incubator the University of Wynwood and, with a little help from his friends, including Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen, is launching the first annual O, Miami poetry festival.
O, Miami's goal is simple: to poetry-bomb Miami-Dade County's roughly 2.5 million inhabitants every day for the month of April. "I have no idea whether we can do it," Cunningham says. "But with 34 events, 23 projects, and four languages, I think we have a decent shot."
Some of the events include an opening-night pig roast with a reading by poet Tracy K. Smith. There will also be readings by Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin and Andrew Whitman. And just because he seems to be everywhere anyway, actor James Franco will recite poetry.
But poetry's reach will stretch beyond scheduled events. To ensure that every person in Miami-Dade encounters an ode in the next 30 days, O, Miami had to get inventive. The county and the Poetry Society of America will pitch in by placing odes in English, Spanish, and Kreyol on public buses. Plus Everglades National Park and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden will display poems for their visitors.
Also, because it wouldn't be a Miami poetry festival without an attention-grabbing car, the group will cruise Miami Beach in a rented convertible Ferrari while reading poetry through a bullhorn. You also might get a dose of ode at your favorite restaurant, because O, Miami will place poems in various menus throughout town. And those planes that fly over the beach advertising strip clubs? A couple of those babies will tow banners with excerpts from classics, such as a line from German poet Rilke's "The Archaic Torso of Apollo" that reads, "You must change your life."
Contemporary verse is vibrant, diverse, and divine, and must be experienced to be appreciated. With O, Miami's help, we'll all get there.
Here are a few of O, Miami's events.
Eating Our Words
The fest will kick off with tasty food and talented writers in an event hosted by Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Heather Taylor. Eating Our Words will serve a traditional Cuban buffet of roast pork, seafood paella, rice, beans, maduros, and other treats, while featuring award-winning poet Tracy K. Smith. She will read excerpts from her new book, Life on Mars, comprising an eclectic mix of subjects — such as the death of her father, '70s science fiction, the cosmos, and the existence of God — with cameos by Charlton Heston and David Bowie. 7 p.m. Friday, April 1, at Boater's Grill, 1200 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne; 305-361-0080. Admission is $30 ($20 for students). Visit omiami.org for reservations.
Abe's Penny Live
Works by four local photographers — Lee Materazzi, Francie Bishop Good, Samantha Salzinger, and Robby Campbell — will be displayed in a writing village that New World School of the Arts students built in the middle of the ArtSeen Gallery. Based on the New York magazine Abe's Penny, which is mailed weekly to subscribers in the form of a postcard, the exhibit will feature works with a photo on one side and a poem or serialized story on the other. Visitors to the exhibit will be able to write responses to each work. Those who do will automatically be entered in a contest where one person's response will be chosen for publication in Abe's Penny. The exhibit's opening night will feature readings by Denise Duhamel and Gabrielle Calvocoressi. 7 p.m. Saturday, April 2, at New World School of the Arts' ArtSeen Gallery, 2215 NW Second Ave., Miami. Admission is free. Visit artseenspace.wordpress.com.
Yale Anthology of Rap
Hip-hop artist Jean Grae will highlight an evening celebrating the explosive marriage of rap and poetry and its impact on culture. Grae has worked with some of hip-hop's brightest artists, including the Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Immortal Technique. The event will include readings from renowned poets and MCs, such as Grae, as well as African-American lit scholar Adam Bradley, Afro-Latino performer Adrian Castro, Mixology author Adrian Matejka, plus other special guests. Poetry is rap; it's just a hell of a lot cooler when it's done with hip-hop flair. 7 p.m. Friday, April 29, at New World Center Performance Hall, 500 17th St., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $10 to $20. Call 305-673-3331 or visit nws.edu.
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Poetry & Violence
A discourse and poetry reading in the context of political violence, Poetry & Violence will present readings from Pushcart Prize-winning author Jill McDonough and solider-poet Brian Turner, an Iraq War veteran and member of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. The event will also feature Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, regarded as one of the most compelling and gripping poetic voices in Latin America. Zurita, who was arrested and tortured during Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's reign, is known for his poetry of universal love. 3 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at New World Center SunTrust Pavilion, 500 17th St., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $10. Call 305-673-3331 or visit nws.edu.
U.S. Poet Laureate Reading
With more than 30 books of poetry, U.S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin writes verse that is rife with his profound personal beliefs, philosophies, and embracing of deep ecology. In 2009 he won a Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow of Sirius and in 2010 was named the 17th U.S. poet laureate. A poetry fest isn't a poetry fest until a poet laureate blows our minds. And O, Miami saves its best for last with a night of reading from Merwin. 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at New World Center SunTrust Pavilion. Tickets cost $10. Call 305-673-3331 or visit nws.edu.