On Tuesday, April, 19th, I skipped up two flights of red stairs to expedite my arrival at the Villain Theater in MADE At the Citadel. I usually don’t move like a schoolgirl, but tonight was special for several reasons.
First reason: Jai-Alai Magazine was releasing its penultimate Issue. Like any countdown, the closer we get to the last number, the more palpable the tension. Second reason, I was going to share my first published poem. Third reason, this was a party at Villain Theater, a hip new spot.
I checked in at the ticket booth, bought a few books and then proceeded to the theater. The room, with black walls and low lighting, was a perfect venue for the event. It felt chic and intimate, spacious enough for about fifty bodies but cozy enough to mingle.
During mingling time, people flocked away from the seating area and towards the two tables at the entrance of the room. One table, offered gracious giveaways from O, Miami--free beer and KIND bars. But more people were gravitating toward the Books Are Nice! Zine Machine. They were pushing and feeding four quarters into the machine’s mouth to see it spit out Ajiaco: A Food Zine. This zine, with a wonderful splash of the red orange stew on the cover, is described on the O, Miami website as “poems becoming recipes becoming photographs.”
This was a lively little scene and I briefly talked to J.V. Portela, editor of Jai-Alai Magazine during mingling time. He had me thinking about the village it takes to create a literary art scene when he told me “access is the force behind poetic drive.”
We can see this in action with the chain of events just for this particular night. MADE at the Citadel gave O,Miami access to a space, O,Miami gave Jai-Alai access to a space, and Jai Alai has given poetry geeks access to a space--a place to call home.
What really impressed me was how receptive the audience were to the range of readers. Jan Becker, an MFA candidate at FIU and 2015 AWP Intro Journals Project Award winner, read her powerful essay “An Elder Sister’s Story Song.” The audience was riveted for the entire fifteen minutes it took to read her poem. Solieda Río, one of the prominent voices in Cuban poetry, winner of the Nicolás Guillén Poetry Prize in 2013, read her poem Ofó in Spanish. Portela then read it in English. The audience applauded both.
What makes Jai-Alai Magazine so special? It’s unique in its philosophy of uniting Miami’s emerging and established writers from all over the world in one collection. For example, some no-name poet like me will be featured alongside the greatness of Frankétienne, who in the New York Times is described as the “prolific father of Haitian letters.” It’s an interesting feature, like a conga line where two groups that would never mingle miraculously do.
Also, Jai Alai makes it a point to feature several pieces in translation, because Portela says, “Miami is a city in translation, full of disparate elements that somehow co-exist.”
Tonight I glimpsed the literary village Jai-Alai Magazine and O, Miami have been diligently building. It was a proud moment to see the village dwellers, founders and scene converge into this dark, promising space.
Farah Diba is a writer living in Miami, Fl. She will be contributing blog posts for O, Miami Poetry Festival 2016.