Open source epic poem lets everyone participate in O Miami

Jordan Melnick has a lot of confidence in the citizens of Miami.  As the editor of the local arts and entertainment blog, BeachedMiami, he has invited anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection to contribute a line to a single poem.

BeachedMiami has a page dedicated to O, Miami, the month-long poetry festival.  Melnick’s decision to start an open source epic poem as part of that page was a "last-minute idea."

“I wanted to come up with a beating heart for the site,” said Melnick, a 27-year-old Miami native. “Whereas the festival is trying to get people to encounter a poem, we are asking people to create a poem, and to do that together as a community.”

To start the project, Robby Campbell, BeachedMiami's photo editor, drew a raven to serve as the poem's "mascot". The bird is named Quoth, a obvious reference to Edgar Allen Poe's famous narrative. Then Melnick asked Matthew Zapruder, a contributor to Miami-based Jai-Alai Magazine who recently won a Guggenheim, to start the first line.

"O Miami, like a river or a boulevard we begin somewhere," Zapruder wrote.

Zapruder said that while a poem is usually an "utterance or cry of one individual voice," the open source poem is able to gather part of Miami’s "collective mind" into something concrete.

“I think this poem is a true epic, because it is chronicling the history and existence of not one particular person but a tribe, the New Miamians,” Zapruder said in an email.

The O, Miami poetry festival was co-founded by P. Scott Cunningham and Peter Borrebach. The two run the University of Wynwood, which despite its name, is not a school but a nonprofit based in the Design District that "curates events and projects that advance contemporary literature in Miami."

Cunningham is impressed with the epic poem so far.

“It’s funny how diverse it is, and there have been some fairly notable poets who’ve contributed to it,” he said.

To see who contributed what, viewers can click any line to see the author’s name and website.

The 50-plus contributors so far include Andrew Whiteman of the band Broken Social Scene, Sam Winston, a London artist in Miami on a  Fountainhead residency, and Denise Duhamel, a Florida International University professor and poet.

Duhamel edited Saints of Hysteria, an anthology of collaborative poems that covered eras from The New York School poets in the 50s, the feminist poets in the 80s, to the present.

“There’s this tradition of collaborators, but usually people collaborate within their own school of poetry,” Duhamel said.  “What I like about this is that it’s really democratic and anyone can just chime in with a line.  It’s fun.”

Duhamel’s contribution reads:

"with a salt-and-peppered skipper at the helm. Miami, who are you?"

To take part, anyone can leave a comment on the poem to be automatically added. Melnick doesn't plan to edit the submissions. 

“You’d have to say some ridiculously egregious to not get it in verbatim,” he said.  “In fact, if people want to push the envelope a little more, that’d be great.”

The poem was originally supposed to coincide with O, Miami’s end, but now Melnick is unsure.

“Is it ever going to be finished?  Who knows, maybe we’ll just leave it open, let it keep building forever.  It could be kind of like Wikipedia: constantly being built and never having an end, just like the city.  The city doesn’t have an end.”

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