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O Miami Poetry Festival Assaults the Ivory Tower


Photo: ©gesischilling
Written by: Sean Erwin
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During the month of April the organizers of the seventh iteration of the O Miami Poetry Festival intend every resident of Miami Dade county to encounter a poem or – even better – write one!

And they’re willing to pull out the stops. For the founder/director of the festival, Scott Cunningham, the festival is above all “a Miami festival, and if we're serious about that, we have to be serious about reaching all of Miami, not just the easy-to-reach parts. Poetry is the way we do that. Poetry travels easily and anyone can write a poem.”

Cunningham is ready to ruffle a muse to do this. “Poetry has a reputation of being overly serious,” he says. “We try to fight that by putting poems in places you wouldn't expect them. Joy is an essential part of poetry, but unfortunately, it's a part that gets lost in the mix all the time.”

The festival hosts 31 events and 25 projects during the month of April, and to create new literary audiences in South Florida organizers have arranged some unlikely encounters.

For instance, everyone has read those difficult-to-repeat-in-polite-company limericks scrawled on bathroom stalls.To reach the goal of one citizen/one poem organizers took the next logical step – why not just put the poo right on the verse? The O Miami “Poo-etry”program embraces the idea of a poem so bad it smells! During April, while waiting for Fido to get on with it, Miami residents can distract themselves with poems printed on the green plastic poo bags the county’s parks distribute for free.

Just like the “Poo-etry” program, other O Miami poem-encounters capitalize on the day-to-day. These include poems printed in three languages on Miami transit tickets or gas pumps wrapped in lines of verse at county Tom Thumb gas stations.

“View-Through” situates the poetic experience right beneath our fingertips. Programmer Julia Weist and a corp of over 2,000 volunteers have hijacked Google’s algorithm to generate spontaneous lines of verse from persons incarcerated in Miami-Dade county prisons. “We've temporarily monopolized the Google search autocomplete in the Miami area.During April, if someone searches for miami inmate or even potentially miami i.... the poems appear as search predictions,” described Weist, as in this line from inmate and author Nancy de Nike: “Miami inmates are believing in the unseen.”

Added inmate and author, Allen Dorsey, Sr.: “This project is different because it gives me an individual voice, where other projects involving inmates only made me one of a group.”

Finally, the festival also branches out in collaborations with organizations from both in and outside Miami. “We welcome creative collaborations because it's an easy way to expand our reach, and it makes the festival more interesting,” says Cunningham. One such hook-up includes The “Kerouac Bukowski Drinking, Poetry, and Drinking Club,” whose members encourage audiences to profit from self-destructive tendencies, put pen to paper and bring the consequences of bad behavior to Gramps Bar (176 Northwest 24th St., Miami) on April 24.

A final collaboration brings back an audience favorite from last year, Chicago-based Manual Cinema, for three performances on April 28 and 29 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center (10950 SW 211 St., Cutlet Bay).Think hypnotic fusion of Thai shadow puppetry, Victorian silhouettes, mime and avant-garde film technique mixed with the electricity of real-time performance. This year’s show, Lula del Rey, is billed as a coming of age story in the American southwest, set to favorites like Roy Orbison and Patsy Kline.

Afterwards on April 29, hang around to thank the muse for an active and interactive month when the O, Miami Poetry Festival will close with a free all night party at the SMDCAC Plaza with DJ, food trucks, bars, and live music by the Rambling String Band.

For a complete list of events, locations and links for those events that need tickets see the O Miami website at: http://www.omiami.org/.

 


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About The writer

Sean Erwin is a writer and assistant professor of Philosophy at Barry University, with a focus on aesthetics and contemporary french philosophy.
Sean Erwin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Barry University and received his Masters and Doctorate in Philosophy from Vanderbilt. He has presented and published on topics in political philosophy, Italian and French philosophy, and technology and performance studies. He currently serves as the senior editor of the Humanities and Technology Review.

Erwin is also a performance critic for Artburst, with performance previews and reviews appearing regularly there and in other South Florida publications. Artburst gives him the platform to critique the aesthetic principles he writes on as a professional philosopher through analysis of the concrete movements embodied by performers.

He is also an accomplished dancer and teacher in the Argentine Tango community. In 2000 he founded and served as editor of the Chicago webzine, Tango Noticias, a specialty dance periodical dedicated to examining Argentine Tango as a set of social practices rooted to the Southern cone’s history, politics, and culture.

Since his move to South Florida, he has both taught philosophy and served as a principal tango instructor for the Miami-based, Shimmy Club, a non-profit program that teaches Argentine Tango to vision-impaired teens. Through his involvement with the program, Erwin has been featured in articles and several news outlets including Univision, Telemundo, NBC News, KPFK Los Angeles, and the Miami Herald. For more information, see erwinsean.com.

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