Beauty may be truth, and truth beauty, and that may well be all we need to know, but the creators of the O, Miami poetry festival are taking no chances, no matter what John Keats says. They’re bringing poetry to the people. All the people. For the whole month of April.
O, Miami’s first venture, the LeBron James Poetry Contest — such classic verse as “Cleveland can go ahead and spit flames/You can’t burn up the Heat” celebrated the basketball team’s newest star — drew more than 1,000 entries. But now the festival is aiming higher. The plan is to encourage — “force” is such an ugly word — each of the millions of residents in Miami-Dade County to encounter at least one poem sometime during National Poetry Month. And we’re not talking at dull, cheap-wine-and-warm-cheese readings. We’re talking pig roasts. Banners emblazoned with poems stretching across the sawgrass in Everglades National Park and abandoned buildings in the Overtown/Omni area. Videos of the desperate, unlucky souls stuck in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles reading poems on camera. Artists sewing tags inscribed with verse onto thrift-store clothing. Poetry dropping from the skies (printed on biologically friendly material, of course). Miami Commission chair Wifredo “Willy” Gort’s promise to open and close city meetings with a poem. And Oscar nominee and Renaissance man James Franco in person at the New World Center on April 28 reading his works. Yes, he writes poetry, too. Really.
“Poetry has a stodgy reputation, which is in some ways well deserved,” admits P. Scott Cunningham (at left, above, with cofounder Pete Borrebach), one of the masterminds behind O, Miami and founder of the nonprofit arts organization University of Wynwood. “But I believe most people would find it meaningful if we could find a way for them to connect with it. When we did the LeBron James contest last year, I learned what most people’s conception of poetry was, based on the submissions. It’s about Robert Frost for most people, which is great. Or Dr. Seuss, with a heavy rhyme scheme. I like Robert Frost. But I thought if we changed the model a little bit, it could be really exciting.”