As a man who two years ago carried the near-impossible mission of exposing 2.6 million Miami-Dade County residents to poetry, and who did so with a monthlong slate of events that included dropping famous poems from helicopters and sewing them into thrift-shop clothing, P. Scott Cunningham is now confronted with another task this April.
He has to do it all again. And differently this time.
O, Miami, Cunningham's Knight Foundation-funded poetry biennial is returning with the ambitious job of infusing South Florida with a vibrant literary form he admits doesn't hold "meaningful" value for most nonliterary folks.
"The majority of people who see a poetry reading advertised just won't go. They don't see anything there for them. Perception is what I'm trying to do battle with," says Cunningham, 34, who grew up in Boca Raton, earned an MFA in creative writing at Florida International University and moved to Miami in 2005. He even founded a fake educational institution, the University of Wynwood, in 2008 to operate his myriad literary functions (O, Miami included). "The purpose is exposure, because not a lot of noise gets made about it. I don't have the resources that, say, Michael Bay does. But with poetry, you need nothing in your arsenal."
Well, almost nothing. To spread the message, he's enlisted celebrity help in Miami-raised poet Richard Blanco, he of the well-received poetry recitation at President Barack Obama's inaugural address in January; and Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, recently found wandering Miami for a Nirvana tribute concert during Art Basel. Both, along with NBC's "Parks and Recreation" writer Megan Amram and the provocative bunch behind Miami's annual Borscht Film Festival, will deliver various readings and film screenings during the O, Finale on April 28.
But that's a month from now. Well before then — Monday, in fact — the fest will kick off with a poetry picnic at Cuban restaurant El Palacio de los Jugos, followed by an opening-night party at Wynwood's Gramps Bar. He says that's where O, Miami will introduce its poetry-contest-partnership with WLRN 91.3 FM, where people who tweet the best lines of poetry during April with the hashtag #ThatsSoMiami will have them read on a forthcoming radio broadcast and published in Cunningham's book "That's O, Miami!"
Many of O, Miami’s other offerings take place at the Betsy South Beach, a hotel sponsor, including featured poetry readings from Kevin Young, Chase Twitchell, Jean Portante, Jose Angel Leyva, Eduardo C. Corral, and Frank Báez; soapbox-style open-mics (the Betsy’s idea); a Sylvia Plath tribute event; and the Poetry is Dead street parade, a kind of “funeral procession in reverse” where participants dress as famous dead poets and recite lines.
"With the contest, the point is to get people writing about the stereotypical Miami that we know and love," Cunningham says. "The beauty with O, Miami is you get to work with a lot of outside partners. They're all full of ideas about poetry.
Other events include the 4th annual Poetry Buffet, where attendees read poems round-robin-style, and partake in mini-workshops to craft new poetry while enjoying food at the CrepeMaker (76 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables); and a project by FIU graduate Paul Christiansen, who will print famous poems by T.S. Eliot and others on drink coasters and distribute them to various Miami bars. Finally, those who email airplane@OMiami.org with a 50-character-or-less short poem may have their composition printed on an airplane banner and flown across Miami Beach in late-April.
O, Miami will begin Monday, April 1, with a 3 p.m. Poetry Picnic at El Palacio de los Jugos, 5721 W. Flagler St., and a 9 p.m. O,pening night party at Gramps Bar, 176 NW 24th St, both in Miami. The festival will conclude April 30. For the full festival schedule, go to OMiami.org.