What do we want? Poetry.

Added on by Melody Santiago.

While attendees to Poetry in the Park relaxed and waited for the main event to start, they were treated to a taste of one of O, Miami’s more vocal projects for poetry outreach, Poetry Protests. Coordinated by artist/activist Marc Saviano, the demonstration, set up on the eastbound side of 17th Street next to Soundscape Park, was a more in-your-face way of getting the word out to South Beach’s commuter and foot traffic about the need to support poetry, art and the people who create it, in our community.

All photos by Gesi Schilling.

All photos by Gesi Schilling.

The “protestors,” a jovial bunch happy to lend their time, arms and voices, carried signs with luric fragments like “Every day is an existential crisis. / Waves of panic. / Oof.” A few cars honked in agreement while they chanted, “What do we want? Poetry! When do we want it? Now!”

“It’s a mixture of performance art and activism, which is something I do regularly anyway,” Saviano said as he lowered his megaphone for a moment to chat. “It was kind of a neat idea that popped into my head as a unique way to present poetry on the streets. It’s a way to present poetry that’s out of the norm, to take people out of their routine maybe, and have them engage with it in a way that shakes it up a little bit, in a subversive way but not really.”

A friend of Saviano’s had participated in O, Miami events before, and suggested that he submit some ideas for this year’s festival. “She knew I had weird ideas, so I submitted a few, and O, Miami selected this one, and we followed up on it.” After poets were called to cull the verses, O, volunteers helped create the signs and joined the protests. You can expect demonstrations at various locations and times throughout the month.

Alexandra Golik and Carolina Dominguez, two of the volunteer protesters, were happy to help the cause, and each other. “Carolina is my best friend, and she works for O, Miami,” Golick said in response to why she joined the protest. 

“Yes, I am interning for O, Miami, and was setting up things for Poetry in the Park,” Dominguez chimed in. “I didn’t know the Poetry Protesters were also coming. So when I heard the megaphone and came over to see what it was about, I decided to pick up a sign and help them out.”

For both young women, it was a fun, different and effective way to shine a spotlight on the call for more poetic access in our community. Golick added, “Whenever there’s a protest going on, you can’t help but want to see what it’s about, so I think this is a nice, fun way to bring attention to the need for more poetry, and more appreciation for the poetry that there is.”

“Absolutely,” Dominguez added. ”It gets them to become a part of the poetry, lure them in, get their minds going and have them see what’s going on.”

I left them to keep on fighting the good fight, as more cars honked in agreement to Saviano’s megaphoned voice announcing, “All the world’s a stage, and platform for poetry.”

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

A BreakBeat Future

Added on by Melody Santiago.

At the Old RC Cola Bottling Plant in Wynwood (a condemned-looking space doubling as an open air graffiti museum) the world of poetry got a lot richer thanks to Kevin Coval, co-editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket 2015), and the young talent mentored by  Darius Daughtry from The Omari Hardwick bluapple Poetry Network, and Brimstone from PATH to Hip-Hop.

All photos by Gesi Shilling. 

All photos by Gesi Shilling. 

A few verses:

Southeast corner, first base, a police camera sits like an announcer’s box…flashing blue, overseeing everything here as if it is foul play...Southwest corner, second base. A boarded up building serving more coke to more patrons than a world series game...
-Malcolm London’s “Like a Baseball Diamond“

I want to be a portstar because I don't have daddy issues, I have magazine issues.
-Sam, PATH finalist “I Want to be a Pornstar”

No more beefin’, let's go vegan.
-Jabari Capers, Miami Lakes Education

Women taught to act like piñatas at birthday parties...split open, spilling everything.
-Maya, PATH finalist

I want to be this generation’s Maya Angelou.
-Dylan Somerville-Hall, Junior at Miami Beach High

Third baseman uniformed in hoodies, Pelli jackets and Tiberland boots, bats ready to strike out at any one who stares too long, walks too boldly, or throws the wrong curve of fingers.
-Malcolm London “Like a Baseball Diamond“

It's a different world, different day and age, different set of rules but game stays the same.
-Sekajipo for the People

Fast balls, black mothers...strung out on street corners, their own sons standing on the pitcher’s mound with no hope of being dug out.
-Malcolm London’s “Like a Baseball Diamond“

Stitches ain't perfect...praised to be built stronger, broken.
-Stitches, “Bonje”

Another poem about my skin?..Skin is timeless. Love is timeless, too.
-Marnino Toussaint, Miramar, FL

You don't need a religious book to find the right verse
-Dylan Somerville-Hall, Junior at Miami Beach Senior High

The takeaway? The future of poetry and the future hip-hop are one in the same. 

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

Poetry Adventures— A Flotilla Divided

Added on by Melody Santiago.

I love the great outdoors and poetry, but O, Miami had me beat to the brilliant adventure idea: take a flotilla of kayaks from Matheson Marina, glide into a canal for six more miles and end up at Coral Gables Wayside Park where everyone reads ecologically themed poetry. Call it environmental activism, a romantic adventure, or green poetry. Whatever you name it, I was stoked.

All photos by Gesi Schilling. 

All photos by Gesi Schilling. 

Our flotilla got split into two camps, those following flotilla leaders Mario and Emma, both candidates of UM’s MFA program in Creative Writing, and the rest of us who thought we could cheat the wind system and attach ourselves to a motorized boat and get dragged via engine until we arrived at waveless, unresistant canal waters.

A smart boy named Manny, on a double with his older sister, summed up our success with a Queen cover: “We are the losers, my friends.” Feeling like the opposite of champions, my kayak-mate and I lost patience with our progress, and decided to just row, row, row our boats.
And we did. I was in a double, and my kayak-mate and I prided ourselves on never capsizing despite the rough waters. However, without a map or knowledge of the canal system, we got lost. Were we at sea or the Biscayne Bay?

We did see something familiar: two members from our Flotilla, Courtney Hapon, and Sapir Elazar, and they had knowledgeable devices stowed away on the dry bags they carried. We connected with them and pulled out Google maps. Then we realized: seven miles one way.  We had only rowed one mile, but with all the choppy waves and wind resistance the familiar tropes of feeling tired and dehydrated and surrounded by salt water started to play out. We saw our oasis--a private beach fully equipped with sand and beach chairs. If any estate owners were bothered, we’d move. But for the sake of poetry, we had a persuasive speech prepared. 

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Well we were able to grace the shores of this man-made beach with some poetry by Coutrney Hapon, Jorge Pazos, and yours truly. Sapir, a young lawyer from Boca, was a great audience member. We jumped back into our kayaks and joined the rest of the poetry camp at Coral Gables Wayside Park, where poetry protesters chanted lines of apocalyptic verse.
During the readings, Tony from Afrobeta improvised some music in collaboration with readers. The first reader read a Gregory Pardlo poem like he was protesting, and read it out of a bullhorn. Cuci, from the duo Afrobeta, even got inspired to share one of her poems about basses sounding too “trebbly,” which morphed into “a pony ride”, “shaving off your hair,” and felt like “finding candy at the fair.”  

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The next reader that opened up my poetry world was named Adam. He was a high school literature teacher from Miami-Dade Public Schools wearing a tie around his head. He read a stunning poem by Richard Brautigan about a “cybernetic forest/ filled with pines and electronics/ where deer stroll peacefully/ past computers/ as if they were flowers/ with spinning blossoms.” After Adam quoted Richard Brautigan again: “every girl should have a poem, even if we have to turn the world upside to down to do it.” Amen. 

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

Poetry in the Park 2016: US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

Added on by Melody Santiago.

I am vibing on this perfect South Beach weather, and the even more perfect vibe among the people gathering in Soundscape Park in front of the New World Center next to Lincoln Road, all waiting for the start of Poetry in the Park. The manicured lawn sprouts a lovely, colorful carpet of diversity: young and old in all shades of the human rainbow; families of all shapes, sizes and sexual identities (Pride was happening just a few blocks away); pets and their people, even some in matching finery. They all congregate amiably, enjoying the breezy weather, waiting for the main event.

A pair of fit, friendly girls named Cari and Lee, weave in and out of the growing crowd, passing out free, healthy snacks from the Kind Company. With each snack, they hand out cards redeemable for another free Kind bar. The catch? That you hand the card to someone you observe performing an act of kindness—a sweet way to pay it forward, so to speak.

At around 7:55, a countdown appears on the 7,000 square-foot wall of the New World Center building, alerting the crowd to gather around and take their spots on the lawn for the main event. Part of the Mary and Howard Frank Plaza, the wall is regularly used by the City of Miami Beach to project outdoor movies in the evenings for local residents. As the larger than life clock ticks down to 0, the crowd hushes in anticipation. They are not disappointed. The presentation, includes readings from artists like poet Tere Figueras Negrete, a winner of the 2013 #ThatsSoMiami contest. Later, Miami’s favorite band Afrobeta, sing a song specially written for O, Miami last year.  The crowd is now pumped for the featured artist, our nation’s first Hispanic Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera. 

He first appears onscreen—or rather, on wall—in a mini documentary chronicling a class he led with the children of Poinciana Park Elementary school in Liberty City. I don’t know whose excitement was more infectious, his or the children in the video, as he led them through a lyrical world involving the power of clouds and poetry. When he finally took to the cinematic stage to read his work, he keeps the crowd mesmerized with his lyrical stylings and intimate banter. He inspires the audience, both in the film and in the park, to participate in this lively performance. 

Perhaps the highlight of the evening is Felipe’s performance of the poem, “187 Reasons Why Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border.” The poem, he explains, was written in response to California Proposition 187, a 1994 initiative which aimed to cut medical, educational and other services to undocumented immigrants in the state. Herrera makes it an interactive affair, requesting that the audience shout out, “Because,” before he reads a line from the litany, such as, “Because the CIA trains better with brown targets,” Because! “Because the North is really South,” Because! “Because you, as a European corporation, would rather visit us first.”

As I ride the bus home from the event, a man, tired and agitated from his hotel cleaning job (judging by his dusty uniform) on Miami Beach, is short the 25 cents he needs to complete his fare and go home. The bus driver lets him on anyway. When I get to my stop, I handed him my Kind card, give him a brief explanation of what it was all about, and went on my way.

All photos by Gesi Schilling. 

All photos by Gesi Schilling. 

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

Poetry Heath Fair at Jackson Memorial Hospital

Added on by Melody Santiago.

On a bright, sunny Miami day like this, the last place you’d be is at the hospital. That is, unless you were attending the O, Miami Poetry Health Fair, which took place on April 7 at Alamo Park, located in Jackson Memorial Hospital. Hosted in partnership with the Jackson Health System, volunteers from O, Miami and Jackson worked together to bring a little lyrical healing to attendees while they enjoyed free, healthy snacks from the Kind company, free massages from Lumina massage, and some soothing jazz music from the Mike Levine Quartet as part of the Jazz @ Jackson lunchtime concert series.

All photos by Gesi Schilling. 

All photos by Gesi Schilling. 

 

The highlight of the event was attendees getting their very own poetry prescriptions to enjoy, complete in a handy medicine vial filled with restorative verse in English, Spanish, or Creole. Poetry-deficient patients were asked to fill out specially created prescriptions with volunteers like Vanessa Goodnow and Hoda Masmoue (both with Jackson’s pharmacy), which asked what ailment they’d like relief from, such as sadness, boredom, etc., or if they wanted to enhance the good feeling they already had. Volunteers like Tere Figueras Negrete, also with Jackson, filled the prescription in one of the available three languages, according to the answers patients gave on their prescriptions.

Patients were also invited to test their visual poetry health with a special eye chart designed by local designer Amanda Funnicio made from a poem by National Book Award finalist Ross Gay. Lyrically acute patients enjoyed making out his lovely little poem:

I woke smiling
singing
no kidding
singing
smiling
thank you
thank you
thank you

They even got to take a copy of the eye chart home, the better to keep their poetry acuity sharp.

By noon lunch-goers enjoyed the mild, breezy weather along with the festivities. According to Tere, between 400 and 500 prescriptions were handed out that day. As I opened my own prescription, I was treated to an excerpt from the poem, “Six Years Later,” by Richard Wilbur:

So long had life been together that once
the snow began to fall, it seemed unending;
that, lest the flakes should make her eyelids wince,
I’d shield them with my hand, and they, pretending
not to believe that cherishing of eyes, 
would beat against my palm like butterflies.

It was the perfect remedy for my desire to focus more on the beauty of poetry.

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

Om, Miami—CURRENT // an underwater pool meditation

Added on by Melody Santiago.

Relax. The poetry heroes at O, Miami joined forces with The Spa at The Standard and prolific Miami artist-filmmaker Jillian Mayer to put our techno-stress to rest. CURRENT// gave us hammocks, soft faux golf grass, golden blossoms from Peltophorum trees, and most importantly, poetry embedded in a 16 minute guided underwater meditation at The Standard. The purpose? To create a technology induced zen experience, a virtual Om.
 
Mayer’s vision anticipates all the challenges you will have in 2100. Issues like social anxiety due to overpopulation, inability to focus due to hyperstimulation (thank you perpetual pinging gizmos), among other anxieties. These were all pacified in this interactive performance and site-specific sound piece.

Artist Jillian Mayer leds an underwater poetry experience at The Standard.

Artist Jillian Mayer leds an underwater poetry experience at The Standard.

Mayer began the experience by asking participants descend to the ground. A soothing recording looped for five minutes, instructing to “please sit or lay in silence,” after which the voice prepared the group for the strange and potentially anxiety provoking circumstances ahead: “your vision will be obstructed, but you will be safe…do not bother swimming… simply float… do not be disturbed, if you come in contact with a stranger…you will inevitably bump into other participants.” 

Photo by Gesi Schilling. 

Photo by Gesi Schilling. 

Did her voice sound trustworthy? Imagine if the disturbing voice on the track “Fitter Happier” from Radiohead’s Ok Computer had a smarter, kinder twin. Mayer sounded like an enlightened and compassionate computer deity from the year 2100. I was intrigued, so I followed this voice into phase two-- the underwater meditation.

Photo by Gesi Schilling

Photo by Gesi Schilling

Participants donned white smocks (a robe to wear during meditation to reduce body image anxieties), custom-created underwater blindfolds (goggles painted black over the glass so there would be no visual distractions), and a lung straw for air-sipping (a snorkel to keep the air supply going for 16 minutes). Once heads were underwater, this enlightened-compassionate-computer deity was still audible. It counted down serenely from fifteen, a classic hypnotic procedure. Soon, I was overcome with gratitude when a positive feedback loop repeated,“Thank you for being under here with me. Thank yourself for allowing yourself this moment to be here.” 

Photo by Gesi Schilling

Photo by Gesi Schilling

At times the enlightened-compassionate-computer deity addressed the strange and sometimes alienating emotion we straddle in the 21st century, that uneasy paradox of loneliness in community, being physically alone on our screens, but communing online. “You are alone today/ You are all alone but as a collective wave… a ripple, a current,” the voice said. To keep the metaphor running, Mayer inserted words from the poem “Swells” by A. R. Ammons: "The very longest swell in the ocean, I suspect,/ carries the deepest memory, the information of actions.”

Photo by Gesi Schilling.

Photo by Gesi Schilling.

Later, the compassionate-computer-deity voice won us over with these lines affection—“I wrote this for you…the day is noisy you need a virtual space to relax, to see things clearly”—before urging us to let go of our 21st century techno-stress. “Think not of plagiarizing, of intellectual properties, ‘likes,’ attention, sincerity, authenticity, buzzwords, or parody. Think not of your agenda, your agency,” she said, then uttering the words of Fay Zwicky in the poem “Age of Aquarius”: "I invite you to take this moment to relax/ and talk about ‘things that must matter'."  

Photo by Gesi Schilling

Photo by Gesi Schilling

Questions follow: “What information are you most attached too? What experiences make you the most you?” And they climax into a beautiful line from Mary Oliver’s “Summer’s Day”: "What is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?" 

Photo by Gesi Schilling

Photo by Gesi Schilling

Before you think this sounds too hokey, consider these humorous parting images that foretold the rest of the night: “A mixed drink arrives to you with an order of beef sliders. The small ones. It’s okay if you are a vegetarian, nothing was hurt in the making of these sliders. This hardware is eco friendly.” 

Photo by Gesi Schilling.

Photo by Gesi Schilling.

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

Les Petites Poètes—a showcase of South Florida youth poets

Added on by Melody Santiago.

There’s a famous Whitney Houston song that starts, “I believe the children are our future.” It is a sentiment that O, Miami took to heart at the Les Petites Poètes event on April 2 at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach. Showcasing the talents of the littlest literati from elementary schools in Sunrise, Broward County, and Liberty City, Miami-Dade County, the young poets in training got the chance to read their original works for their families, friends, and supporters.

The culmination of a two-month long project in partnership with O, Miami and the City of Sunrise’s Word Up! Poetry Initiative, Les Petites Poètes helped the participating students develop their poems with the help of in-classroom writing coaches Laurel Nakanishi and Ellene Glenn Moore – MFA candidates from FIU’s Creative Writing Program. They then selected their best pieces to get them ready for the chapbook that was specially created for the reading.  Poems like the one read by Latavia Smith, of Poinciana Park Elementary, titled “Blue:”

It is a plain sky, a nice day to be on a picnic
eating grilled cheese sandwiches
and the grass is green.
The color of my hair ribbon holding my hair back.
The slide at my park.
The color of my room.
My room feels like it is winter.
I feel like I am floating in the air.

Two highlights from the reading were the young guests invited to provide inspiration for the petites poètes. One was Broward College student Marnino Toussaint, whose soulful, spoken-word artistry showed a mastery well beyond his boyish 19 years. Another was Chastity Hale, 17, still a junior at Miami Arts High. She read a poem selected last October by the National Student Poets Program and read to First Lady Michelle Obama, who is an honorary chairwoman for the program.

Broward College student Marnino Toussaint, whose soulful, spoken-word artistry showed a mastery well beyond his boyish 19 years.

Broward College student Marnino Toussaint, whose soulful, spoken-word artistry showed a mastery well beyond his boyish 19 years.

With this caliber of young artists to serve as their role models, and after some well-deserved refreshments, the young poets went forth happily towards their lyrically bright futures.

The Word Up! Youth Poetry Initiative is a year-round City of Sunrise program dedicated to youth self-expression.

The Word Up! Youth Poetry Initiative is a year-round City of Sunrise program dedicated to youth self-expression.

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

"Flip the Script" kicks off O, Miami 2016

Added on by Melody Santiago.

I almost April fooled myself when I arrived at 4:30 p.m. just before afternoon rush hour; a little too early for the event’s slightly late start. I started to head home, thinking O, Miami’s "Flip the Script" performance, kicking off their month-long celebration of National Poetry Month, had been that morning. But something told me to get off at the next Metro Mover stop and circle back to the Bayfront Park Station. I wasn’t disappointed. 

Performer Ana Mendez in "Flip the Script" at Bayfront Park Station

Performer Ana Mendez in "Flip the Script" at Bayfront Park Station

Seated on a metal stool, a dunce cap perched on her pig-tailed head, was what looked like a little school girl in all her plaid parochial finery. She held a sign styled after the kind you see roadside hawkers twirling to direct you to sell your gold, or more often, to try the newest vape joint. Instead of some garish shade of neon, hers was plain white, asking simply, “Are you sorry?” She occasionally flipped it on its other side to reveal the question, “Will you be sorry?” while she hopped off her stool to do a little two-step in tap shoes.

Reactions to the schoolgirl, played by local Miami performer Ana Mendez, ranged from amused indifference to a slightly disturbing proposition from a too arduous construction worker. Several passersby took both surreptitious and open selfies in between. She was one of four characters flipping signs that afternoon, each featuring selected lines from the poem "Twenty Questions" by Miami's mostly forgotten son, the poet Donald Justice.

Even event coordinator/performer Rudi Goblen, dressed in a dapper fitted black suit, flipped a sign that asked, “Will you take off your glasses?” Anita Jungbauer, the affable, bespectacled matriarch of a family of German tourists on a 2-day sojourn to Miami, kindly obliged Rudi, asking him, “Now what?” When I stopped the slightly sunburned quartet, comprising mama Anita, papa Hans, and daughters Pia and Hannah, and asked them what he said, she replied, “He said, ‘thank you,’ and we laughed!” When I asked them why they stopped to engage Rudi, she answered, “I don’t know; I was curious, and he seemed interesting.”

Rudi, who conceived the project as a unique way to visually expose pedestrians to Justice’s work, collaborated with three other local Miami performers to create the unique characters developed from lines of the poem. They included a goggled young man in a bright yellow rain slicker, played by Louis Cuevas, whose sign asked “Is it raining out?” (most existential answer: “I can tell you that it’s not raining out, but I’m not sure whether it’s raining within.”) 

Gerardo Pillatti played a Where’s Waldo expy (who elicited a honking, “Hey, I found you!” response from a passing driver at some point), whose sign asked, “Do you often travel alone?” The crowd favorite seemed to be the lady with the curvaceous pink print dress and sky-high heels, played by Katie Stirman, serving it to the rush hour traffic as her sign asked, “What is your occupation?”

Where's Miami performer Gerardo Pillatti?

Where's Miami performer Gerardo Pillatti?

“I thought she was a model, she was dressed so fabulously,” said Mariella Lopez-Albear, who was in the downtown area for her re-certification as a Supreme Court certified mediator, when I asked her what was talking about when she stopped to engage Katie. “I thought she was doing something for New York with the photographer, then I saw the sign, so I stopped to ask.” They discussed the project, O, Miami. Mariella plans to visit the site tonight when she gets home. “We need more culture in Miami, not just people looking different or talking different languages. Real, intellectually stimulating culture, so thank you for doing this.”

Katie Sitman asks the tough questions. 

Katie Sitman asks the tough questions. 

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

The Sunroom Wins FEAST Miami #6

Added on by Scott Cunningham.

O, Miami is proud to announce that we are the winners of FEAST MIAMI #6.

FEAST MIAMI is a series of pop-up, vegan dinners dedicated to supporting artistic and cultural work.

O, Miami's Laurel Nakanishi applied to FEAST to support her teaching residencies at Poinciana Park and Orchard Villa elementary schools in Liberty City. These classes, which introduce 3rd and 4th graders to poetry over the course of ten weeks, are part of O, Miami's Sunroom program, which pays poets to teach in communities where high-quality writing instruction is not guaranteed. 

We're very grateful to FEAST and to the FEAST attendees who voted for us, and we were very honored to share the evening with the following projects.

Bold Beauty Project
"Biscayne Bay" by Gustavo Oviedo
Sprayskull: Sprayface CR3atures
Miami Zine Fair by Exile Books

Here's a short video about Laurel's work at Poinciana Park

Ross Gay on the short list for the National Book Award

Added on by Scott Cunningham.

Congrats to 2014 U-WYN Visiting Poet Ross Gay on being named as a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry.

Ross came down to Miami in February of 2014 and read at The Light Box in Wynwood and at Design and Architecture Senior High School

We also took Ross to JC Penney for a photo shoot with chihuahuas and props. It was his decision to wear his bathrobe from The Writer's Room at The Betsy-South Beach. (Don't worry, Betsy staff, he returned it.)

We miss you, Ross.