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.
These include two plant-based dinners such as “Sangam Rice,” which explored the “complexity of rice as experienced in South India,” described in the Facebook event page and “Farm-to-Table Dinner with O, Miami: Blackberry Poems,” which took place at The Cafe at Books and Books and featured a community style setting that was ideal for opening conversations. In this manner, they are giving the city a fatherly push in the right direction and exemplifying the progressive trends occurring as a conscious response to the environmental crisis, albeit in a fancy way.
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, funny sea creatures, and lovely dinners, OMiami’s mission is to bring a poem to everyone in the city and well, really once again I had to go find the poetry. It apparently was lost. After going to a 9:30 am meeting at their headquarters at CIC, which the director failed to attend, I saw a flyer that said: “Lost Poem” posted on a bulletin board at the co-working space.
I called the number and heard a few poems in a recording. It was pretty cool, but I still had the sense that the poetry was missing and had I not gone looking, in this case, to meet with their actual director, I would have never even heard any. In fact, 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!” Can you name me one well-known poet who came to read this year at O, Miami?
Furthermore, after the director forgot to attend our morning meeting and called me on the phone instead, the festival’s PR person sent me their press photos, which are included in the piece. I spent a few hours in creating a photo gallery and shared them, and then the director asked me to take them down immediately. I was in shock as the PR person gave them to me the courtesy of the festival. To my complete shock, the director accused me of using them without their permission. They showed no consideration for the time I spent working on the post or my interest in the festival. Cunningham said “they work really hard on their image” but the pictures were not in any way damaging to their image, I thought.
I have worked with O, Miami in the past. I have covered their festival since their second year in 2013. The director also failed to answer any questions I sent him via email after he asked me to do so, which leads me to wonder: Is OMiami trying to hide something? They were criticized by JJ Colagrande in 2013 in his article for the Miami New Times: “Is, OMiami Worth 480,000?
In the commentary, he mentions how the organization received almost 500, 000 dollars in grant money in just their first two years yet failed to actually bring everyone a poem as they claimed. As I mentioned before, had I not gone to their office, I would have never heard a poem and, again, most of their events require people to purchase tickets or drive long distances, and some of the events are geared towards small groups, including the director and his close friends.
Where is the poetry they promised us?
I guess the folks at O, Miami were too busy playing baseball and bowling to bring them to us.
With all that money they received, plus the money they charge people to participate in their events, I am sure they could have found a more effective way to deliver poetry to the people, which doesn’t involve a Ferrari or Pit Bull lyrics. Well, is it possible that they have something else on their mind:
Now that’s So Miami.
Burn Baby Burn…a reference to one of their final events, which involved participating in the burning of the effigies at “Love Burn.” Now, that’s poetic.
Photography by Charlotte Kels
We here at Miami Chronicles would like to challenge anyone to come up with an actual way to get a poem to everyone in the city. Comment below.