High schooler’s poem to get prominent display on Miami Beach water tanks
Lines from a poem written by Miami Beach Senior High School sophomore Valentina Mena’s poem were selected to be emblazoned on an art mural wrapped around Miami Beach water towers. (Photo courtesy of O, Miami)
A year ago, Valentina Mena moved to Miami Beach from Villa Maria in Argentina.
When she entered her sophomore year at Miami Beach Senior High School, a new school in a new country, she says she found it daunting. Then a poetry workshop. hosted at the school by O, Miami, gave her an outlet to express her feelings.
She says words flowed from her pen onto her paper, collecting in a pool of thoughts and memories that contained the sentiments of her heart.
“(The poem) reflects the things that I went through,” says Mena.
The bilingual poem is inspired by Mena’s experiences as an immigrant and its message has so strongly resonated with others, it has taken on a life of its own.
“My Home, Mi Hogar” has become an integral part of O, Miami’s 12th Annual Poetry Festival, with the festival’s mission that every single person in Miami-Dade County encounters a poem. Selected lines from Mena’s poem will be emblazoned on two, three-million-gallon water storage tanks at the Miami Beach Public Works Department, 451 Dade Blvd., Miami Beach. One tank presents the work in English, while the other in Spanish, where a brightly colored design along with the words are spun around the tanks.
The mural on one water tower will be emblazoned with the line: “Finding My Home In Every Voice That I Hear,” while the second will read, “Hay Un Hogar En Cada Voz Que Eschucho.”
“I am completely grateful,” she says, about her poetry being selected.
Valentina’s full poem in English reads:
This is my first place in a new reality
where it received me but made me miss my old me
While time passes it feels alright
Afternoons are humid and sun hits my skin
Riding my bike, watching the green in the neighborhood,
and the blue reflected in the ocean
I’m living the music of them
and recording moments so I won’t forget
but sometimes it’s hard to adapt
But people here feels like a family’s part
finding my home in every voice that I hear,
Walking down the streets, wondering people’s lives
I know that I’m not alone, that my fears are shared
and that we are all searching for the best next alternative possible
That’s what recomforts me at the end of the day.
The mural was designed by the multi-disciplinary collective Boa Mistura and Mena’s fellow students from the high school will help paint sections of the mural on Friday, April 26.
The completed project is set to be unveiled on Friday, May 5.
“It’ll be a long-term installation for Miami Beach residents, but also residents of Miami Dade County to view and take a little joy from while they’re passing by,” says Melissa Gomez, O, Miami’s communications director.
Another public display of poetry from O, Miami was also culled from submissions for the [Your Poem Here] contest, which would put the winning entrant’s poetry on a billboard at NE 8th Street and Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami.
The selected poem by Little Havana resident Luz Rossy was an ode to her grandmother who is also named Luz.
For Rossy, the contest turned her flirtation with poetry into a full-blown affair.
The library assistant at the Westchester Library Health and Wellness Information Center dates her passion for prose back to when she was in the sixth grade.
“And ever since then, I fell in love with just the artistry of turning everyday life into love on a page.”
So when she heard about the contest she jumped at the chance.
The campaign was held in partnership with WLRN Public Media and O, Miami who both invented the poetic form called “Zip Ode,” a five-line poem that corresponds to the numbers in one’s zip code.
Rossy’s zip code is 33125: Her poem:
(3)”My name came
(3)from my abuela
(2) she said
(5)we can share it forever.”
Katie Cohen, engagement editor at WLRN, said that Rossy’s enthusiastic response wasn’t the only one they received. Her entry was just one of over 1,500 entries for Zip Odes.
“It’s incredibly overwhelming and powerful,” says Cohen. “There has been a lot of support from the community,”
The poems, she says, covered a range of topics.
“There are odes to dogs to traffic to palm trees to cats to mangoes to iganaus . . .The themes stretch from the sun to the beach. It’s a really special way to communicate. It’s like a love letter to your neighborhood,” says Cohen.
More of the Zip Odes will be read at a poetry celebration at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on Wednesday, April 26 from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will be immediately followed by the 2023 Marjory Stoneman Douglas Poetry Awards at the same location.
For those who didn’t submit a Zip Ode, there’s still the opportunity to submit words of art through two touring projects that will show up around Miami.
El Palacio de los Recuerdos Project by Melissa Guitierrez, a miniature replica of the signature Cuban and Latin restaurant with its unmistakeable yellow background and red stripes, will be at various locations, where people will be asked to write and contribute words of art. The miniature is meant to serve as a memory bank, of sorts.
El Palacio de los Recuerdos Project will be at Super Wheels Skating Center’s open mic night on Thursday, April 27, to celebrate the festival’s 12th birthday. Additional locations are expected to be released.
Another festival event where poetry will serve as a backdrop to imagery is “Portrait at 34” by Miami-based artist Najja Moon. The project involves a custom-designed photo booth, which produces portraits of participants. that are then combined with age-based poetry submitted by local poets and students.
Her booth will be at Lincoln Road Euclid Circle on Saturday, April 29 from 3 to 7 pm.
The installation was inspired by the death of Najja’s cousin, the poet Kamilah Aisha Moon. “She was an incredible poet,” said Moon. “For me, it’s about Aisha. To be able to introduce people to her work is an honor.”
She began the project after stumbling onto one of her cousin’s poems.
“As I’m reading through her first published book of poetry, there’s a poem entitled ‘Portrait at 34.’ I was 34 years old at the time, so I was like, this is weird. It’s like she’s speaking to me from beyond. And then I had this really beautiful and tense moment of connection and felt like it was speaking to me and that prompted this idea of how could I create a structure that could replicate that feeling?”
The project has since expanded and at one point, it was used as a lesson plan to prompt students throughout Miami-Dade County to write poetry.
Last year, more than 300 submissions were received.
Moon is excited about participating in this year’s festival but says that she has learned from previous years and has scaled down her photo booth.
“Transporting it was a pain . . .,” she says. “ It was ginormous!”
Since then, Moon has made some important improvements.
“It’s been completely redesigned to be more portable, and I’m very proud of it.”
WHAT: O, Miami 12th Annual Poetry Festival
WHERE: Various locations
WHEN: Through May 12
COST: Free for most events. Tickets for Zip Odes Finale Reading at the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is $10 for 13 and older, $5 for ages 6-12 and free for 5 and younger.
INFORMATION: For a full list of activities visit omiami.org
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