Culture

Miami-Dade’s Poetry Ambassador Nicole Tallman Organizes Community Reading for O, Miami

Author Nicole Tallman
Author Nicole Tallman Photo by Jackie Taylor
A herd of miniature brass and wooden animal figurines stand guard on the corner of Nicole Tallman's desk on the 29th floor of County Hall. The elephant, penguin, rhinoceros, and camel all appear to take their protective role quite seriously.

The Michigan native currently serves as the legislative director for Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Last year, she was tasked with helping elevate poetry in the community and establishing a local poet laureate program as part of her duties as the first-ever poetry ambassador for Miami-Dade County.

"One of the things I'm very grateful for is that Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is very open to people following their passions, and she knows I'm passionate about poetry," Tallman says.

Her first order of business as the official poetry ambassador for the county was to organize the inaugural Miami-Dade Mayoral Poetry Commendations in 2021, where O, Miami founder and poet P. Scott Cunningham was honored alongside the Biscayne Poet himself, Oscar Fuentes.

As part of O, Miami, this year, Tallman has organized a virtual reading of a heroic sonnet crown. The sonnet was originally composed during the summer of 2021 and was only ever performed during a private reading for Levine Cava. Now, on April 3, the community has the opportunity to hear the collaborative poem written about the resilience of Miami-Dade County.

The poem was written by 14 poet pairs and features both emerging and established authors, including veterans like Maureen Seaton and P. Scott Cunningham, as well as locals such as Tallman herself.

"Maureen Seaton and I wrote the first one together and then passed the last line of our sonnet onto the next poet pair," explains Tallman as she twirls the plastic straw in her tea mug. "It's this beautiful chain that sort of connects all of the 28 poets together. The master sonnet at the very end takes one line from each of the previous pair poems, and that's what creates your heroic sonnet crown."

The free two-hour virtual event is divided into two parts. The first half is the complete sonnet reading, followed by each of the 28 participating poets reading a piece of their choosing.

"I want people to really see the talent that we have here in Miami-Dade County and give poets an opportunity to be able to read and promote their work," she explains.

When not coordinating poetry readings or collaborative projects, Tallman writes and publishes her own poems. Although she has been reading and writing poetry since she was a young girl, Tallman admits that it wasn't until two years ago that she began to share her works publicly and publish her pieces.

When the world collectively was grieving, Tallman herself reflected on the recent loss of her mother, who died in 2017. She decided to process her grief through poetry.

The result is her first poetry book, titled Something Kindred, published earlier this year.

"I would call it a grief handbook that's kind of a hybrid work in the sense that it's part prose and part poetry. I would describe it as this ongoing conversation with my mother," Tallman says. "After she passed away, I felt like there was a lot I needed to say to her, and I felt like writing was a way to reach her. So I wrote these poems and this prose as a way of continuing a conversation with her and also to connect to other people who are grieving."

In much the same way grief comes in waves, Tallman describes her book as being written in a nonlinear fashion. She hopes it will help others overcome and work through their own grief.

She leans back in her chair and twists the simple gold ring on her finger. Her small, gold crescent moon earring catches the light as she tilts her head.

The inspiration that fueled her over the last two years continues, and the author already has her second poetry book out with a publisher while she works on other poetry projects.

"I see poetry as an act of service and a way of connecting community," she says, "but I also think that this time for poetry is so critical. You're seeing almost a renaissance of poetry, a regenerating and reactivating of poetry and making it more accessible for people."

Heroic Sonnet Crown Community Reading. 5 p.m. Sunday, April 3; omiami.org. Admission is free.
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.