Miami-Dade County

Poetry lovers flock to park

Those who agree with the poet Joyce Kilmer, who famously wrote: “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree,” must have been in some kind of heaven Saturday.

Poetry in the Park, part of the month-long O, Miami Poetry Festival, drew hundreds of fans of the written word to palm tree-lined SoundScape park in Miami Beach Saturday.

The event’s main draw was a live reading Saturday night by National Book Award-winner Nikky Finney and former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass shown as a “Wallcast” on the side of the New World Center. But even hours earlier, people set up chairs and blankets on the sprawling lawn, unpacked dinners and settled in for an afternoon and evening dedicated to language.

Felix Brajdic, 69, a veteran of Wallcasts featuring the New World Symphony, knows from experience to stake out a spot early. He showed up a few hours before the reading to make sure he had a good spot to hear the poets and passed some time reading a book he picked up from the Bookleggers Library, a mobile book exchange.

“As long as it’s a good poet, I want to hear what he has to say,” said Brajdic, of Biscayne Park. “When a poet speaks, you’ve got to imagine.”

Andrew Baker and Tavia Robb, of Coconut Grove, stretched out on a blanket playing Jumbo Bananagrams, a word game provided by the festival, with seven books they collected from Bookleggers stacked nearby.

Robb, who works on corporate social responsibility and corporate communications for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., said she is a fan of both poetry and the park. When she saw who was reading Saturday night, she said: “I was really excited that poets of that caliber would be coming here to a free event at this park.”

Baker, a marine biologist who studies coral reefs and teaches at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, showed off his favorite part of the event: a poem about coral produced at his request by one of a handful of writers stationed at a row of typewriters.

“It made my day actually,” said Baker.

The O, Miami Poetry Festival is now in its third year, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Saturday’s five-hour Poetry in the Park gathering was just one of many events this month commemorating the role of poetry in everyday life. In addition to several readings, other upcoming events include a pool party, yoga classes, ice cream social, poetry karaoke, basketball tournament and pub crawl.

“You can kind of combine poetry with anything,” said festival founder P. Scott Cunningham. “We’re just trying to do stuff that people want to go to.”