Look up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a… poem? That’s more than just a punch line when it comes to April’s annual O, Miami poetry festival, an attempt to introduce every single person in Miami-Dade County to a poem. Festival director and founder P. Scott Cunningham oversees the event’s unique projects, which in the past have included sewing poetry inside thrift store clothing, projecting it onto the sides of buildings, and yes, trailing it on a banner behind a plane flying slowly above South Beach. Here, Cunningham offers a preview of this year’s happenings.
Even the very name of the festival sounds offbeat.
We wanted to create a name that was poetry, as opposed to being about poetry. The name is the classic odic address: Think of addressing your beloved in a poem.
“O Captain! My Captain!” for example?
Exactly! In our case, our beloved is Miami. One of the things I always tell people is that it’s a poetry festival second, and a Miami festival first. The point of the festival is to celebrate all of the amazing creativity and culture we have here in Miami. The way we narrow that down and focus it is through poetry.
So if folks are looking for a taste of that culture, what’s a good starting point?
Poetry Press Week. It’s originally from Portland, but it sounds like something invented in Miami. It takes the structure of a fashion show and turns it into a poetry event. At a fashion show, you have a designer presenting their new collection for the season on models who walk out on a runway. Poetry Press Week has found exciting new South Florida poets and given them the chance to present their work in a nontraditional way. The poets never read their own work. Someone else might read it, or act it out, or use contemporary dance, or an overhead projector. In the audience, just like in the fashion industry, we’ve seated insiders in the front row who can do something for those poets. So far we have people coming from BuzzFeed Literary, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Harvard Review—and there’ll be plenty more.
Will there be paparazzi swarming out front, as well as a very imperious intern telling poets they’re not on the guest list?
Hopefully! Normally poetry is about a jug of wine, a bunch of tweed, and clockwise: Signature tote from O, Miami 2014; typing up poems at Big Night Little Haiti in 2013; last year’s O, Miami and The New Tropic Poetry Cruise; Manual Cinema’s My Soul’s Shadow paired shadow puppetry and the poetry of Federico García Lorca.
Rhyme & Reason
With events unfolding from Miami Beach to Hialeah, the O, Miami lineup can seem overwhelming. But Director P. Scott Cunningham advises not missing the April 27 reading by Boston’s Frank Bidart: “He’s one of the best living poets, and one of the best readers of poetry. Everything he says sounds like it’s coming from God, but in a very human way. If you have a little person inside you that is the ‘true’ you, it’s like that person speaking.” Another pick? The Poems to the Sky project, designed by Miami’s own RandyBurman and featuring couplets written by Liberty City elementary school students. Though Cunningham says you may need to book a flight to properly experience it: “We’re painting the poems on rooftops in the flight path of Miami International Airport. People on planes coming in and out of the city will be able to see the work out their windows.” an overwhelming sense of sadness. We try to create a lot of pomp and circumstance that is usually not at a poetry reading. The O, Miami poetry festival takes place at various locations around town, April 1–30.