Imagine on your lunch break, as you sip on your afternoon coffee, a piece of paper tied to a tiny parachute gently falls from the sky onto your lap. And written on that piece of paper, there is a poem – a form of literary art that uses the evocative power of language to affect the reader. Suddenly, your lunch break is transformed into a mysterious, intellectual and thought-provoking exercise.
Rest assured, poetic renegade forces are not carpet-bombing Miami. Well, not exactly.
Come April 1, artists Jonathan Lizcano and Ximena Izquierdo will be dropping hundreds of poems from an airplane onto secret locations throughout the city. Don’t worry: the poems will be printed on biologically-friendly materials, the artists assure.
The so-called “Poem Drop,” is one of many strategies coming to the city as part of O, Miami, an ”untraditional” countywide poetry festival directed by poets Scott Cunningham, 32, and Peter Borrebach, 28. The festival combines traditional and unique poetry readings with “poetry-in-public-places” projects, meant to fuse poetry into the framework of our city.
Much of the projects were born out of a realization that Miami’s unique culture doesn’t lend itself to the traditional festival model, Cunnigham said. “We felt like we had to do something different, so instead of trying to get everyone to come to one specific place in one short period of time, we decided to try and make a festival model that actually went out to the audience,” he said. “The mission is for every single person in the county to encounter a poem.”
Cunningham founded University of Wynwood in 2008, while obtaining his MFA in Creative Writing at Florida International University. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the “faux university” is an organization located in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood that curates events and projects that advance contemporary literature in Miami. The festival is sponsored by The Miami Herald.
In addition to “Poem Drop,” the festival features other projects meant to surprise people with poetry.
”Poetry in Motion” is displaying multilingual poetry inside Miami-Dade Transit buses. “Poetry Tags” consists of poems printed on a series of clothing tags that are then sewn to garments in local thrift stores. And the Girls Advocacy Project is encouraging detained youths to write poems that will be displayed on banners at the Miami Regional Juvenile Detention Center and at the Courthouse in “GAP Banners.” Then there’s Herald Bloom, a fictional character who will be writing poems daily off the news.
”The idea is that he’s the unofficial poet laureate for Miami-Dade County and also a poetic spokesperson for the paper, writing poetic versions of the news that link back to the actual news story,’’ Cunningham said. “It’s another way for people to engage with the news, but through the lens of poetry.”
The poems will be published in The Miami Herald’s print and online editions.
Not all aspects of the festival are meant to be stumbled upon. O, Miami has collaborated with a number of cultural organizations and institutions to develop an innovative calendar of events meant to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally attend a poetry reading. Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match is one of these events.
“Round one is a seven minute reading followed by humorous remarks by the celebrity judges, and in the second round, two winners face off in a ridiculous physical challenge,” said contestant Matt Gajewski. “I think [Cunningham] is giving poetry a healthy sense of humor. It’s going to motivate people who aren’t normally pursuing poetry to seek it out. Any way to expose people to art is a good thing.”
Gajewski is a local writer and the creator of Pure Imagination, a 90.5 WVUM radio program featuring original short stories and improvised narratives set to music by Miami-based composers.
Perhaps the most culturally significant aspect of the festival is its interactive strategy, getting people to mix with and be a part of the festival, as opposed to just attending it. One of the projects, “Whish You Were Here,” is a part of “Abe’s Penny Live,” an interactive photography exhibition at New World School of the Arts. Abe’s Penny is a literary magazine that is printed on postcards and mailed to subscribers weekly.
“O, Miami’s theme of “Wish You Were Here,” poetically captures our tourist-heritage, and also suggests how Miami is a center for the arts and poetry drawing people world-wide,” said Craig Saper, author and professor of Texts and Technology at the University of Center Florida. “We hope that anyone and everyone will send a postcard with something poetic on it: a few lines of text, a visual poem, a collage, a celebration or criticism that fits on a post card.”
Postcards sent to the O, Miami festival office by April 9th will be included in the exhibit.
Another interactive feature of the festival is the Miami Poet Census. O, Miami is asking all poetically-driven residents to complete the online form at www.omiami.org and to be a part of the first-ever Poetic Map of Miami.
“Unlike other art forms, poetry is often done in private,” said Cunningham, “so we decided to make a map of the poetic density of the county to demonstrate that there is a poetic population here, even if you don’t see it all the time.” Participation in the census makes it possible to be published in O, Miami’s book, “The Poetic Guide to Miami.”
“Miami is the right place to do this project, and the city just so happens to be in this burgeoning cultural moment where it’s engaging in all these cultural experiments and exhibiting a spirit of willingness to take risks and do things in the name of culture,’’ Cunningham said. “I don’t think that exists in many places right now in the United States.”