Poems and Poetry at 33rd Miami Book Fair

Written By Josie Gulliksen
November 8, 2016 at 1:51 PM

Poems and Poetry at 33rd Miami Book Fair

By Lisa Palley, Palley Promotes

I’ve always loved the idea of poems and poetry; how cool did I feel in my solipsistic 20s holding a book of poems by W.S. Merwin on the train from Washington, D.C. for a weekend of New York Cities in the 80s. I loved when people looked at me, thinking how smart I must be. I love the theater, and that is what I liked about poetry. I love the sound of words. That is really what attracted me to the idea of poetry: the language, and the rhythm of sentences when heard aloud, the inflection the reader gives of one word over another. Poems have their own heartbeat.

Miami is lucky to have both Miami Book Fair and O, Miami Poetry Festival in its midst. We are also lucky to have talented and sagacious teachers right here in town, award-winning faculty who are successful in attracting nascent poets from all over the country to move to Miami, to learn by trial and error how to write poems that express deep feelings and philosophically complex emotions in as few words as possible, while simultaneously transporting the listener to another world. A lot of these MFA graduates have stayed in Miami, and we are the lucky ones.

I reached out to Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, who along with Lissette Mendez, director of programming for Miami Book Fair, are both published poets who love and want to share their love of rhythmic words with the community. Together they invited a wide variety of contemporary troubadours to Miami for the 33rd Miami Book Fair, November 13-20. I wanted to know about their vision behind the 2016 program.

“We wanted to create a balanced program of established poets, nationally recognized prize winners and emerging authors, and others who have yet been recognized for their work from all over the U.S. and the Caribbean. All of whom besides being masters of their craft who have something to say on the timely topics of today — politics, race, gender, love and death — offer keen insights and witty commentary, inspirational challenges and stimulating questions,” says Cancio-Bello.

Coming to this year’s Miami Book Fair are a wide variety of poets they hope will appeal to a variety of audiences. They know that Miami audiences will recognize such indelible names as Rita Dove, Eileen Myles and Robert Pinsky, and Miami’s own Denise Duhamel and Campbell McGrath. But not necessarily Jamaican Ishion Huchinson, or Monica Yoon, one of this country’s leading Asian-American poets, or Aracelis Girmay, author of The Black Maria, which is already being taught in some college classrooms. The MBF also welcomes back Solmaz Sharif, who attended the 2014 MBF as a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow, and who according to Cancio-Bello is the artist behind a “really amazing first book Look, which aims to reclaim war and political speech through poetry.”

Poets writing today are expressing what we’re all thinking, are putting into words the thoughts we want to express, but don’t necessarily have the language to do so.

A big reason to attend a poetry reading is because “poetry on the page, is one thing. Seeing the person who wrote it, and hearing it in the voice of the poet, in a way that it was intended to be heard adds a layer to the art form,” said Cancio-Bello. “Hearing a poem in the poet’s own voice adds a dimension that is so personal. It’s all part of the connective experience for people.”

Her recommendations:

Peter Balakian – author of several books of poems, most recently Ozone Journal (2015), winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize. His memoir Black Dog of Fate is the winner of the PEN/Albrand Prize for memoir and a New York Times Notable Book Award.

Joshua Bennett is coming to the Fair with his debut collection The Sobbing School, which features songs for the living and the dead that destabilize and de-familiarize representations of black history and contemporary black experience. Bennett has recited his original work at venues such as The Sundance Film Festival, The NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at The White House.

Aracelis Girmay takes the name of her third book, the black maria, from the moon’s dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, and investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within American culture, and the question of human identity. The recipient of a 2015 Whiting Award for Poetry, Girmay’s newest collection elegizes and celebrates life, while wrestling with the notion of seeing beyond: seeing violence, seeing grace, and seeing each other better.

Beginning in a hotel room in the dark of a distant city, we travel with Joy Harjo, author of Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, through history and follow the memory of the Trail of Tears from the bend in the Tallapoosa River to a place near the Arkansas River. Stomp dance songs, blues, and jazz ballads echo throughout. Lost ancestors are recalled. Resilient songs are born, even as they grieve the loss of their country.

Hailing from Jamaica, Ishion Hutchinson, winner of thePEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner journal, and the Academy of American Poets’ Larry Levis Prize, is coming to the fair from his position as assistant professor of English at Cornell to share House of Lords and Commons, and explore, with a mythic sea wanderer as our guide, the remnants of violence of the 17th-century English Civil War.

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving without a License, winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize, a collection of poems that tell a story about growing up undocumented in America.

Poet, scholar, and currently a lecturer in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program at the University of California, Davis, Donika Kelly is coming to the Fair with Bestiary, a catalog of creatures – from the whale and ostrich to the Pegasus and chimera to the centaur and mermaid — who wonder just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection.

Sjohnna McCray is the author of Rapture, winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award. McCray movingly recounts a life born out of wartime to a Korean mother and an American father serving during the Vietnam War. Their troubled histories, and McCray’s own, reveal the process of discovering one’s own identity, one’s own desires.

Winner of the 2014 Four Way Books Intro to Poetry Prize, Rajiv Mohabir’s The Taxidermist’s Cut inhabits the experience of a queer brown youth awakening sexually in a racist, anti-immigrant matrix.

Poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, photographer and social activist, Margaret Randall has lived in Latin America for 23 years and will share Only the Road / Solo el Camino, the most complete bilingual anthology of Cuban poetry available to an English readership and which paints a full and dynamic picture of modern Cuban life and poetry.

Danniel Schoonebeek is the author of American Barricade (YesYes Books, 2014) and Trébuchet (University of Georgia, 2016). Winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series, this collection addresses gun violence, poverty, fascism, surveillance, white privilege, the protest movement, censorship, American history, torture, and net neutrality.

Solmaz Sharif’s politically chargedLook asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable losses of human lives, and also the insidious abuses against our everyday speech.

Born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), which won the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and a 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award, explores Jamaican childhood and history, race relations in America, womanhood, otherness, and exile.

What happens when the transformative imagination comes up against the limits of unalterable fact? This question is explored through the lens of radial, emotional and physical allotments in Blackacre by Monica Youn, author of two previous poetry collections, Barter, and Ignatz, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

In closing, says Cancio-Bello, “Poems historically have been at the forefront of social change, personal change, offering up a beautiful expression of the range of human experiences, that are relatable to all kinds of people.”

For more information about Poems & Poetry at the 33rd Miami Book Fair, please visit

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