Poetry Press Week: Night One

Added on by Melody Santiago.

It was a night where the finest lyrical designers put their best verse forward as the poetry-loving public, literary publishers, and members of the press gathered together for Poetry Press Week, held in the chic venue of Mana Contemporary in Wynwood. Created in  Portland, Oregon in 2013 by poets Liz Mehl and Justin Rigamonti, Poetry Press Week has grown in popularity, producing two shows a year, much like its inspiration, the bi-annual showcases in the fashion industry known as Fashion Week. Now that it has made its way across the country to Miami with the help of O, Miami, Mehl and Rigamonti hope to spread the concept, and iterations of the event, to other culturally receptive cities around the country as well. 

All photos by Gesi Schilling.

All photos by Gesi Schilling.

“We think that Poetry Press Week would do well in cities where it could be held in conjunction with other, longer celebrations of the arts, like O, Miami’s poetry events,” Mehl said to me as we sipped complimentary IPAs from Concrete Beach Brewery.“We’re excited to have the opportunity to bring this concept to even more locations.”

The showcase featured the creative talents of rising and established poets as they presented their newest, unpublished works in exciting and unexpected ways. Combining visual, auditory, and performance art—the poets were not allowed to read their own work—the artists created presentations that brought their poetry to a new level of perception, and appreciation. If the concept reminds you of a challenge ripped from an episode of Project Runway, then you’re on the right track. 

A total of five poets presented their work that night, including Annik Adey-Babinsky, Carlos Pintado, Cherry Pickman, and Aja Monet—each putting their own lush, multisensory stamp on their work. One of the standouts of the night was Chastity Hale’s piece, whose collection of poems, themed around flowers, the environment, and how we relate, was the centerpiece to a perfectly balanced fusion of visual and audio elements. Performer Victoria Hasselhof took center stage, silently removing flowers off her dress and hair, until she exposed the blood red of her dress.

The accompanying film, projected behind her, depicted images of a flower-crowned fairy child, vividly colorful scenes of nature, and black and white scenes of environmental devastation, while haunting poems wise beyond Chastity’s seventeen years were voiced over:

In physics, extinction is the shattering of light.
So maybe, if we turn away
as the wavelengths of other species turn to flat lines,

our humanness, our apex predators will shine brighter

Hale’s presentation even prompted Gaby Calvocoressi, Senior Poetry Editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books, to approach the young poet during intermission, no doubt to speak to her of possible opportunities the editor may be able to offer to her. Calvocoressi, along with Saeed Jones, Executive Editor of Culture at Buzzfeed, were just some of the literary editors in attendance that evening.

“I like that [O, Miami] is immersed in the city, and that it’s actually a part of Miami,” said Jones. “Something that worries me about festivals sometimes is that they can be a bit cloistered off from the city or community that they’re located in, so that writers and editors fly in from all over the country and then we all converge in this little bubble…and we leave, often without a sense of what the actual city’s literary community is like. And I think O, Miami is the exact opposite of that. We’re getting an opportunity to actually be a part of Miami, and see the conversations and work that are being birthed in the city, and I love that. I think that’s special.”

Calvocoressi nodded in agreement, and said, “I think it’s an extraordinary festival, and I think that Miami is such a specifically remarkable place. What I admire is that this festival did and does something most festivals don’t. It reevaluates itself, being a festival that is really, deeply invested in the passionate lives of the people of this city. And that I think is something that every festival in this country could pay attention to. It’s not just about a group of writers from a large city coming into a place, it’s about celebrating the poetry that is inherent in the place.”

After the performances concluded, attendees were invited to attend the after party, held down the block and across the street at Kit and Ace. Guests were treated to sweet and tender carved meats and specialty cocktails made of vodka with lemon juice spiced with ginger. 

Clidiane Aubourg is a writer living in Miami, Fl. She will be contributing blog posts for O, Miami Poetry Festival 2016.