The O, Miami Poetry Festival (www.omiami.org/) has given poetry a zip code in Miami; the literary art form has been welcomed in one way or another to the sunny metropolis under the shade of the community’s support.
The Knight Foundation primarily funds the festival, which has celebrated the city in the tradition of many poets, writing verses celebrating their vicinities. People were asked to submit their poems about the Magic City. The festival literally crafted a love poem to Miami, creating an electronic map of all of the first lines of poems submitted by people in each zip code. (knightarts.org/omiami/zipmap/) Each random poetic fragment was unified, creating a whole.
Here’s an example of the zip code map for 33165:
4 poets submitted work in the 33165 zip code
Here are the first lines of their work….
After summer rains,
For a while nearly silent
Oh, Miami, oh!
The zip code poems are called #zipodes and they can be found at http://zipodes.tumblr.com.
Honoring the various neighborhoods in the city this year, the “Ode to the Zip Code” contest, judged by Richard Blanco asks participants to write a poem (within a specific form) about their zip code.
According to their website, O, Miami seeks to bring a poem to everyone in Miami-Dade, but most the festival’s 40 events in 30 days actually require people to actively seek them out.
Events are located at venues around town, mostly in Downtown Miami and Miami Beach. Many require purchasing online tickets, applying for small, often exclusive gatherings and/or writing a lyric the organizers like. At many of the events, alcohol (and its love-hate relationship with literature) is celebrated as well, leaving non-drinkers excluded.
For example, on the first Saturday of the festival, April 4, 2105, a poetry reading with three-well-known poets including Campbell McGrath called “Under the Influence,” will take place at The Betsy Hotel’s B-Bar in Miami Beach. Additionally, the festival will have one “Poet-in-Decadence,” who will receive a drink for a poem, at Gramps Bar for every night of the month.
Most of the weekday events begin in the early evening, in the midst of rush hour, also making it difficult for those who work to participate. The first event “Miami River Poetry Cruise” is on Wednesday, April 1 at 6 p.m. on a boat, and its after party is at the InterContinental hotel; how much harder can you make it for people to get poetry than by putting it on a boat or a skyscraper during peak traffic hours?
But, alas, there are other more open, free events later in the month such as “Poetry in the Park” on Sunday, April 12 at Soundscape Park in Miami Beach and “O, Wolfsonian Day” on Friday, April 17, at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, where participants will encounter lyrical expression blended with culture.
Though the festival attempts to venture into less represented parts of town like Kendall through a “Walking Workshop” in the locale, it falls short to represent the neighborhoods of the city. Event venues include art galleries, bars or venues mostly in areas considered the best for exploring the arts, Miami Beach and Downtown Miami.
Poets also have a history of criticizing aspects of their environments in order for change to occur; and many writers have built their legends expressing injustices in their settings; there are many messed-up things about Miami as there are about any American city; the O, Miami Poetry Festival celebrates the status quo, finding a common point of connection between residents; so, the most notorious, popular and well-loved characteristics of our odd home—the climate, the traffic, and the beaches, which everyone can get, are often the subject of poems.
But, the festival also creates room for people to speak out about “messed-up” things like oppression and social injustice, so it is redeemable.
On Tuesday, April 7, “A Picture & Poem Can Voice 1,000 Wrongs” at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood will present bilingual poets from the University of Miami expressing their views on social injustices. Additionally, “Afghan Women’s Writing Project: Amplifying and Responding to Afghan Women’s Voices” at Le Chat Noir in downtown Miami will bring together a group of Afghan women to share their personal conflicts, emotions, and experiences.
Last year, posters with Pitbull lyrics were hung along Biscayne Blvd. Many educated poetry lovers and poets would scoff at the suggestion that the rapper’s lyrics are poetry. Additionally, many would not consider Pitbull to be a great literary mind. So, the city is being celebrated as well as anyone who celebrates the city, despite the merit of the poetry. But, let’s face it poetry isn’t that popular in Miami; Pitbull is, which is sort of the point.
So, at this year’s events, many ordinary activities like texting, drinking at bars, walking, sucking popsicles and tasting chocolate are utilized to get the masses interested in poetry. Yet, poetry for many is far from ordinary, and if you remove the m from masses, you get asses; poetry is for the most part a solitary activity that that is later shared, and not everyone can write poetry; it’s an art to be mixed or to not with sipping drinks at a bar or eating a popsicle.
But, how you take your poetry is matter of preference: On the rocks or with tea?
Despite its challenges, the festival is creating a space for the art form of poetry to be explored, primarily through creative projects, which makes it important. Local artists and poetry lovers are given an opportunity to celebrate their passion for poetry while having some fun through workshops, contests, and social media outlets. But, participating in the festival is pro-active and challenging; if you want a poem from the O, Miami Poetry Festival this national poetry month of April, you are most likely going to have to find it. Unfortunately, a poem will not arrive in your mailbox—unless someone writes you a “Secret Sonnet,” and sends it in to be translated into braile along with a small shipping fee and your address. Maybe next year!
For a schedule of O, Miami Poetry Festival events, projects and information on how to participate, please visit (www.omiami.org).
Also check out my articles on the festival throughout the last few years.