This year’s O, Miami Poetry Festival had a more fatherly vibe. Now that the director P. Scott Cunningham is a dad, the festival was more kid-friendly. There were less under the influence events at bars and more activities for children and their families. One of the first events of the month-long festival was “Poetry in Pajamas” at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. The Pajama Poets are two brothers, Sam and Simon, who started reciting bedtime poems from the bottom bunk of their North Bay Village home. Their mother, local artist Sara Kaplan, shared videos of them on Instagram.
O, Miami set up a gorgeous bed stage in the garden setting. Into the night, children read poems. They acted the role of mini-poets, mini-legislators of the world as Percy Shelley described poets in “A Defense of Poetry.” Kids really are the future, so it’s important to nurture them and teach them that what they have to say is valuable.
According to the Facebook event description, “Poetry in Pajamas believes in empowering kids’ voices and ideas through writing, reading, and understanding poetry.”
Another family-friendly event, “Seagrass Adventure: Poetry Nature Tour,” also involved nature, which is fitting since Miami has such beautiful tropical settings Like Shelley and other Romantic poets, the O, Miami bunch has shown an admiration for Mother Nature.
One of their other events “Oracle in the Trees Walk” also featured the environment as a place of creative inspiration, as it was for the Romantics, and it included a Persian theme. The festival is also great at celebrating the diverse ethnic origins of Miami’s residents as is evident from another of the events “A Taste of Syria.”
The festival’s attention to Miami’s natural landscape is also perceivable in their eco-conscious events, particularly those that show awareness about issues affecting our climate like sea-level rise. “Before it Sinks into the Sea: Micro-Eulogies for Miami” brought together poets from the University of Miami, professors from the English Department, and students including those working on the literary magazine Sinking City. Like many local and international artists, they are drawing attention to climate change, which is great, yet they miss on addressing the main cause, animal agriculture. At the Rock Plaza under the shade of large trees, a group sat on steps and listened to people read their “micro-eulogies” as well as poems that celebrate Miami.
While we (those who “believe” in science) know sea-level rise is a serious issue affecting the Magic City, we’d like to see more action-oriented, solution-focused events, especially by poets “legislators of the world.” Many local organizations claim to work towards healing the planet, yet they still engage in destructive behaviors like eating animals, one of the worst things for the environment. Shelly himself was an adamant vegetarian and also wrote “A Defence of the Natural Diet.” We all love our natural environment like the Romantics, so let’s nurture it. O, Miami showed some awareness this year by hosting events that presented with people with food options that improve the environment.
Aside from climate change, another pressing crisis that the O,Miami Poetry Festival brought awareness to is sexual assault with the event “Silence into Language,” which occurred at A Center for Social Change After #metoo became a national social media phenomenon in October 2017, the gravity of the situation was made clear. April also happens to be National Sexual Assault Month. It is great to see arts organizations shedding light on societal problems, giving people an outlet for expression and creating vehicles for change.
All these problems are related. How we treat the most vulnerable members of our society, animals, for example, reflects how we treat each other. Keeping animals off your plate creates an environment free of violence. In this way, the festival was positive.
But, despite all the cute kids and lovely dinners, O,Miami’s mission is to for “every person in Miami-Dade County to encounter a poem.” In this regard, they fall short. I encountered a poem because I went to O, Miami’s office to meet with their director, and I saw a flyer that said: “Lost Poem” posted on a bulletin board at the co-working space.
I called the number on the flyer and heard a few poems in a recording. It was pretty cool, but I still had the sense that the poetry was missing and I had to go looking to find it. I went to the University of Miami later in the month to attend “Before it Sinks into the Sea.” And despite many students passing by the prime location at the university, only a small group stopped to hear the poems.
Furthermore, some of the festival’s events seem to have very little to do with poetry, appear to be an extension of the director’s personal interests, or are geared to a small group of individuals like a “Day of Thrones” and “Bowling-Leggers” and “I Know Why the Nick Cage Screams!” What does the Game of Thrones or Nicholas Cage have to do with poetry? and Can you name me one well-known poet who came to read this year at O, Miami?
My experience with the director was also a bit amiss this year. He “forgot” to attend our 9:30 a.m. meeting at O, Miami’s office and I had to call him on the phone instead. Then, the festival’s PR person sent me their press photos, courtesy of O, Miami. I spent a few hours creating a photo gallery and shared them, thinking they would be thrilled. Then, to my complete shock, the director asked me to take it down immediately and accused me of using them without their permission. He showed no consideration for the time I spent working on the post.
Cunningham said “they work really hard on their image” but the pictures were not in any way damaging to their image, or so I thought. I eventually took down the pictures so that I would stop receiving harassing e-mails from the director threatening to have his lawyers contact me for using the photographs that they sent me and that they have uploaded on Facebook. I found this a bit ludicrous and extreme. I was also pretty annoyed at the time of mine that they wasted.
We are a non-profit , serving the same community, and in no way profiting monetarily from the use of the photographs. The least they could have done would have been to offer a few shots for an article, especially since they made an error in sharing them as they claim.
You can still see all the photos just a click away on Facebook. To see the photos visit O, Miami Photo Gallery
I have worked with O, Miami in the past. I have covered their festival since their second year in 2013 and always supported them, even when reviewing them with an objective eye. Click here to read my articles about past years. I even got the chance to host an event “Poetry at the Garden” in 2014. So, why the hostility and lack of support? Is O,Miami trying to hide something? I couldn’t help but wonder, and then my positive article took a dark turn.
They were criticized by J.J. Colagrande in 2013 in his article for the Miami New Times: “Is, OMiami Worth 480,000?
In the commentary, Colagrande mentions how the organization received almost 500, 000 dollars in grant money in just their first two years yet failed to actually have everyone in Miami-Dade encounter a poem as they claimed they would do. He wrote: “The stated goal for O, Miami is for every single person in Miami-Dade to encounter a poem during the month of April. Do you think O, Miami comes anywhere near this? No way. Call up three non-hipsters and I bet two of them never even heard of O, Miami.” Pretty funny, but I actually know three hipsters who had no clue O, Miami was happening.
With all the grant money they have received, which is actually more like 600K over their years in service, plus the money they charge people to participate in their events, I am sure they could have found more effective ways to provide a poetry encounter to people, which didn’t involve a Ferrari or Pit Bull lyrics. (See Colagrande’s article) Where did all the money go?
Poetry is about soul not materialism. Poetry is about raging against the dying light of the system not blaring it in everyone’s face. Poetry is about individuality, nonconformism, rising above conformity, not striving for political correctness. Percy Shelly would be rolling around in his grave. Well, is it possible that they have something else on their mind besides poetry? Now that’s, unfortunately, So Miami!
We here at Miami Chronicles would like to challenge someone to come up with an actual way to get everyone in Miami-Dade County to experience a poem next April. Do you think it is possible? Please Comment below.
-Monica (Vega) Torres