Spotlight On: Poetry for All at the O Miami Poetry Festival

by Tim Storhoff

The goal of the O, Miami Poetry Festival is for every single person in Miami-Dade County to encounter a poem. This event returns in 2013 to once again attempt to deliver poetry to all 2.6 million+ residents of Miami-Dade County during the month of April, which is National Poetry Month. Created by University of Wynwood with founding sponsor the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, O, Miami is both a celebration of contemporary poetry and an experimental project to turn a metropolitan area into a canvas for the literary arts.

In 2011, poems were flown behind airplanes, dropped out of helicopters, sewn into clothing, and attached to every single bus in Miami-Dade County. Events featured actors (James Franco); choreographers (Jonah Bokaer, Rashaun Mitchell); artists (Anne Carson, Sam Winston); and, yes, poets (W.S. Merwin, Tracy K. Smith, Raúl Zurita). The festival was covered nationally and internationally by The New Yorker, NPR’s Morning Edition, Dwell magazine, Best American Poetry, and the Associated Press, and chronicled in a new Knight Foundation report.

To continue trying to reach every person in Miami-Dade County this month, the festival organizers are undertaking a new series of projects and events to re-imagine what’s possible in the presentation of contemporary poetry, including:

  • A special celebration with Thurston Moore, lead singer of Sonic Youth; Richard Blanco, the Miami-raised poet who read at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration; and Megan Amram, a poet, comedian, and writer for the NBC show Parks & Recreation
  • A final weekend on South Beach that will feature readings and performances from the most diverse group of poets we’ve ever assembled, including Kevin Young, Chase Twitchell, Jean Portante, Jose Angel Leyva, Eduardo C. Corral, and Frank Báez
  • A book called “That’s So Miami!” published by the people of South Florida. Send us your poems that begin or end with the phrase #ThatsSoMiami and we’ll play them on WLRN 91.3 FM, post them online and select the best ones to go into the book.
  • “Poetry is Dead”: the first-ever poetry parade on South Beach featuring performances by well-known dead poets
  • A special “local poem” displayed pasted on 100 lampposts banners Will we ever see another month so full of poetry?”
  • Poems written by South Floridians flown behind airplanes
  • Brand-new “poetry films” commissioned from and created by those behind the Borscht Film Festival
  • A Tatoo + Poetry Night featuring legendary tattoo artist Duke Riley
  • A new dance + poetry piece by Merce Cunningham alumni Rashuan Mitchell and Silas Reiner commissioned and created for O, Miami
  • An opening ceremony with Miami legend Trick Daddy
  • The first-ever Miami Literary Trivia Night
  • An open mic reading series for locals
  • A “poetry soapbox”: everyday at 5 p.m., a poet will read on the front steps of The Betsy Hotel
  • A poetry-themed flash mob

“Today’s audiences demand to be engaged, and often that means taking art out of the symphony halls and into people’s everyday lives,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts at Knight Foundation, whose art program inspired and funded the festival. “Whether you’re a poetry enthusiast or organizing a small music festival, the lessons from O, Miami will resonate.”

A new report commissioned by the Knight Foundation chronicles the rise of Miami’s art scene and the unorthodox, inaugural O, Miami festival. It also offers insights for any cultural organization trying to engage new audiences and reframe art for their communities. For some additional tips, check out O, Miami co-founder Scott Cunningham’s tips in Bringing Art to People: 8 Ways a Cultural Event can Transcend Genre, Geography and Demographics.

The O, Miami Poetry Festival will be taking place all throughout April, and you can visit their calendar for a list of scheduled events. If you’re a part of a cultural organization, we also encourage you to read the above reports and articles for useful information that can help us all in our goals to more successfully bring the arts and culture to all Floridians.

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