The first time around, O, Miami grabbed poetry, dragged it from the dusty confines of the classroom and out to the streets, the beaches, the Everglades — even down to the thrift stores and up to the skies.
Two years later, the aim of the festival, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, remains the same — to deliver a poem to every person in Miami-Dade County through April, only this time with more ways for the public to flex some creative muscle.
“One of the fun things about the festival is we met so many people who care about the genre,” says P. Scott Cunningham, one of O, Miami’s founders and the creator of the nonprofit arts organization University of Wynwood. “Going forward, we wanted to include as much as possible to give them an opportunity to make it their own. The nice thing about doing this for a month is you have the time and space to do that. It’s difficult to achieve in two days.”
And so, while there are plenty of events to attend throughout April, which happens to be National Poetry Month — collaborative performances with dancers and musicians, open mic nights at locales like Churchill’s and daily readings at 5 p.m. at The Betsy-South Beach, just for starters — there are also more ways to participate. WLRN and The Miami Herald are sponsoring a “That’s So Miami” contest in which writers can submit a 100-word poem about something quintessentially Miami (pastelitos, bad drivers and the Marlins stadium deal are all fair game). Poems will appear on ThatsSoMiami.tumblr.com, and some will be read on WLRN.
Better at short-form work — and who isn’t since the advent of Twitter?
Send a 50-character poem to firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe your work will be flown on a banner behind an airplane bound for South Beach (a favorite from last year was Rainer Maria Rilke’s “You must change your life”). There will also be a pin-up, pop-up interactive exhibit at ArtCenter South Florida on Lincoln Road at which you can pin your poem to the wall and, if you choose, take somebody else’s poem with you, creating a rotating bulletin board of constantly new material.
Engaging with poetry is what makes it come alive, Cunningham says.
“Poems are full of mystery,” he explains. “The appeal is there’s no one right way to read a poem. It’s personal. Every interaction between a poem and a person is unique in the way any interaction is unique.”
O, Miami also explores how poetry meshes with other disciplines. New York-based dancer and choreographer Raushaun Mitchell and partner Silas Reiner performed at the last O, Miami and are planning a new performance this year with New York Times critic and poet Claudia La Rocco. Titled TASTE, it will combine poetry, essays, the spoken word, criticism and dance and will be performed Saturday at Bas Fisher Invitational in downtown Miami.
“They’re bastard arts,” Mitchell says of the link between dance and poetry. “The least respected or established or mainstream fields. I think that there is a camaraderie or similarity there. ... It’s hard to mix them and balance the elements. I find when I’m watching something with movement and words I have a hard time taking both in at the same time. You have to have space, and the timing has to allow the audience to take everything in.” The “warehousey” Bas Fisher space, he believes, will be the perfect venue for the avant-garde blend.
Maggie Hasspacher also sees a link between poets and musicians. She’ll perform a music-and-spoken word piece on the double bass with members of the New World Symphony on April 7 at BBar at The Betsy.
“As a musician I feel like it’s scratching at the same answer and same problems; we’re kind of in this together, musicians and poets,” she says. “We can’t ignore the stuff that is completely unanswered and is not spoken or told. We want to capture that feeling in the moment.”
The festival also includes bilingual and trilingual readings, a benefit for Miami-Dade animal shelters and many other events. It culminates in an evening at the New World Center Symphony Hall with an appearance by inaugural poet Richard Blanco, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and NBC’s Megan Amram.
Cunningham, a poet himself, revels in these unconventional marriages of artistic expression.
“I don’t think poetry needs to be protected in any way,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be dressed up and paraded around. It’s a living art form. You can throw it out in public, and it will be appreciated. It has to be able to survive this way.”