O, Miami Owns April Poetry Month
Thanks to Scott Cunningham
Photographs by Gesi Schilling
National Poetry Month takes place every year in April, and every year since O, Miami was founded in 2011, its mission has been for every single person in Miami-Dade County to encounter a poem during the month of April.
With a growing roster of events, partners, and poets, O, Miami has by all accounts succeeded with its mission. O, Miami has hosted readings by Anne Carson, Patti Smith, and Richard Blanco, and has a program of over 30 events that have exposed the people of Miami-Dade to poems in places they would never have thought of – popsicles, cafecito cups, and 2015’s urinal project by Ian Thomas.
By inverting the usual festival model and spreading poetry to the edges of the county for the entire month, O, Miami has become a platform for poetry to enter people’s everyday lives. For founder and poet Scott Cunningham, “O, Miami tests the limits of what’s possible when circulating poems among a community.”
What is the initial process for planning for O, Miami like – do you start with neighborhoods, concepts or poets?
We start with all three, but mostly, we start with the mission: everyone in the county encountering a poem. We look at our successes and failures in regards to that mission from the previous year, and we say, OK, how can we do better?
What event(s) stand out to you this year?
I’m really excited about the events we have in West Kendall, Hialeah, and Opa Locka. We made a concerted effort to program in those communities because we hadn’t done the best job in the past of reaching them.
How do you feel that Miami’s literary landscape has changed since you started O, Miami?
It’s so much larger and more diverse now. I started University of Wynwood (the non-profit behind O, Miami) in 2008 when Wynwood was a dead zone with a smattering of galleries. The name was a joke because the thought of something like a university being there was ridiculous. Now it looks more like a college campus than most other local college campuses. Miami’s culture in all aspects has exploded.
Do you have a landmark O, Miami moment?
Oh, wow, there are so many. Every year there are people who participate and contribute in ways that I could have never expected. So it’s not one moment, rather an on-going moment in which this festival becomes something the community takes ownership of.
This month you are also releasing issue #2 of Jai-Lai Magazine, what are your feelings approaching the conclusion of this project?
So much has changed since we started in 2010. Not very many literary journals are still printing physical versions because online publishing makes much more sense now. Jai Alai mag is a dinosaur now, a throwback, but it’s a beautiful dinosaur. I’m very happy that its lifespan crosses over this time period when both publishing and Miami underwent major changes.
Speaking of the city, you wrote an article for The Guardian and said, “Miami is where lies go to become the truth.” Can you expand on that?
We live in a place that thrives on fiction. Our two economies are tourism and real estate, both of which depend on invented narratives becoming true. Carl Fisher made Miami Beach out of a sandbar, and what he envisioned is what it is now: a playground in the sun. To succeed here you have to be both a liar and a prophet rolled into one. And then the other part of the quote is that reading the Miami Herald is often like reading a collection of short stories by Borges. How is the stuff that happens everyday in Miami true? It’s too strange. But it happens.
You also said, “Miami has always evaluated itself in the hypothetical, in what it will be, not what it actually is." What is Miami to you?
Miami is always what you what want it to be, not what it is. Once it stops behaving like a blank canvas we can project our aspirations onto, it will die. I guarantee someone right now is planning some sort of scheme for a flooded, post-sea level rise Miami. Even buried in water, some enterprising Miamian will be making a quick buck!
Publix or Football’s [Football Sandwich Shop] depending on my mood.
Favorite City Landmark
Shark Valley observation tower. It’s so beautiful.
Favorite Relevant Miami Throwback Moment
The Miami Heat’s pre-Shaq year, when we had Caron Butler, a rookie Wade, and the best Lamar Odom the league ever saw.
That team had no chance of winning a title, but it was fun and full of optimism. This year’s Heat team feels a little like that one.
O, Miami Moments
April 1 - 30 | Miami