If poetry is supposed to be highbrow, O, Miami isn’t doing it right.
Sure, the annual poetry festival — which runs throughout April, National Poetry Month — features some intriguing cultural events. At “Modern Muses,” New World Symphony musicians play new works inspired by poems. Poets Campbell McGrath, Dylan Brennan and Sean Sexton read at The Betsy Hotel. YoungArts Foundation hosts a “Women & Words” event with Native American poet and activist Natalie Diaz.
And then there are the poo-etry bags for dog owners — emblazoned with a verse from Pablo Neruda, no less — that can be found at certain dog parks around the county. Not all poetry is destined to live for eternity.
The idea that poetry is for everybody and can be found in places we least is expect it — on a poop bag, on city buses, in suburban Kendall — is one that O, Miami has embraced since its inception in 2011, says festival founder P. Scott Cunningham. The festival, funded by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, aims to make every Miamian encounter a poem in April, and so it embraces the unique and the offbeat, with events and projects taking place outside the hot spots of Wynwood or South Beach. Think Homestead. North Beach. Doral.
“We create events we want to go to,” Cunningham says. “We have to combat those stereotypes about poetry being boring or therapeutic. We always want to fight against that. And it’s important to reach every section of the county.”
Stephanie Cornejo, who works in the parks department for Miami-Dade County, answered O, Miami’s call to arms with Pablo Neruda doggie bags.
“When I heard about the open call for ideas, I was brainstorming small interventions,” says Cornejo, who lives in Brickell (and for the record isn’t a dog owner). “I was trying to think about a different user and an inexpensive project. ... And I realized dog bags are used every day by lots of Miamians.”
The bags make their debut April 2 at a daylong adoption event at Miami-Dade Animal Services, 3599 NW 79th Ave. in Doral. Anyone adopting a pet gets a free poem written about their new family member.
We have to combat those stereotypes about poetry being boring or therapeutic. We always want to fight against that.
P. Scott Cunningham, founder of O, Miami
Other projects aim for more serious results. With “View-Through,” artist and creator Julia Weist, poetry students at Dade Correctional Institution and Exchange for Change hope to enlist volunteers to manipulate the Google search trend algorithm so it features poetry written by students in Miami’s detention facilities. (Want to help? Type “Miami inmates are sunbathing underwater” or any one of these five other sentences into Google).
“This is an important aspect of restructuring the stereotypical image of the prisoner,” says poet Allington “Dante” Dottin, one of the participants in the project, via email. “Displaying our work sheds light on our intelligence, creativity and growth as individuals. These public displays and events open to people outside of facilities, these breakthroughs, allow people to view us as fellow human beings in complicated circumstances.”
Such ideas keep Cunningham invested in and excited about O, Miami.
“Luckily it seems like people like it and are enthusiastic about it and want to be involved in increasing numbers,” he says. “The number of proposals goes up every year, and the number of people coming goes up every year. I like that there’s growth. That’s real. We’re retaining people who like it and making new converts.”
Our Favorite O, Miami Events
For tickets or more information on any event or project visit omiami.org.
2 Poetry 2 Ferrari: 7-10 p.m. April 7, Primary Projects, 15 NE 39th St., Miami: Poet David Landsberger jumps in a white Ferrari and shoots a poetry-themed remake of “2 Fast 2 Furious,” stopping along the way to read poems dedicated to actor Paul Walker, who died in a car accident in 2013. At 7 p.m. Landsberger and special guests read more odes to “The Fast & Furious” franchise.
Day of Thrones Season 2: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. April 9, Coral Reef Park, 7895 SW 152nd St., Palmetto Bay; $5. Compete for your house using your mad tug-of-war, sack race and bobbing-for-tropical-fruit skills.
Putt Puttleggers Literary Mini Golf: 7-9 p.m April 15; Palmetto Bay Mini Golf, 9300 SW 152nd St., Miami; $15. Hang out with other readers and play literary-themed mini golf on a special course, get a book courtesy of Bookleggers and an O, Miami tote bag.
Bad Poetry Slam: 8-10 p.m. April 22, Artistic Vibes, 12986 SW 89th Ave., Miami. Is your verse the worst? You’ll find out at this event, which includes the crowning of Miami’s own Bad Poet Laureate. Sign up to take your own shot at greatness (or badness) until March 31.
Japanese Culture Night at The Kampong: April 25, 4013 Douglas Rd., $5. Get a lesson in traditional haiku then test your skills describing the gardens of the Kampong and read your work on stage. There’s also a flower arranging station should your poetry skills be lacking
Manual Cinema, 8 p.m. April 28 and 3 and 8 p.m. April 29, South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211th St. Cutler Bay; $37. “Lula Del Ray,” inspired by the songs of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Roy Orbison, will be performed by the geniuses of Manual Cinema using shadow puppets, cutouts and overhead projectors.