On April 1, we launched the O, Miami epic poem project, a quixotic attempt to create an ancient literary form — the epic — through the thoroughly modern phenomenon of open-source methodology. The idea came to me last minute as a fun and meaningful way to support the month-long O, Miami poetry festival, which we are covering on a dedicated off-shoot site called O, Beached Miami.
Building an epic poem one comment at a time, without moderation, guidance, censorship, or editing, seemed like a ridiculous idea 18 days ago. That it would be a flop and stall out at a decidedly unepic seven or eight lines seemed not only possible but likely.
But it was the parchment-thin chance that the O, Miami epic would catch on in spite of/because of its ridiculousness, its absurd loftiness, its arguably misplaced faith in the faceless Internet masses to breathe life into a dying (if not dead) literary form — it was this odds-off bet that made me decide to go for it. Not to mention the “Why the hell not?” factor.
Well, 18 days later, the poem stands at approximately 240 lines by 84 contributors.* With April halfway through, I’d like to take a moment now to survey the epic at this stage in its evolution.
Now, I’m not a poet nor worth a damn as a poetry critic, so I haven’t much to say about the quality of the epic’s verse. I have my favorite lines — “picadillo chest hair singed, a saltwater contact high”, “. . . who doesn’t love the bludgeon of August air,/ the salty plastic chairs of every minor patio,”, “Dear Barbara, I really didn’t need that box of cake.” — for one reason or another.
Then there are the lines from the known quantities, e.g., poet Matthew Zapruder (“O Miami, like a river or a boulevard we begin somewhere,”), Broken Social Scene guitarist Andrew Whiteman (“she’s up way to early no/ makeup yet i thot its doesnt”), and British word artist Sam Winston (“but”).
What intrigues me most, though, is the epic as a reflection of how people inside and outside of Miami feel about the city. Comb through the poem and you will encounter an array of emotion.
Resignation: “O how you disarm/ ply me with your senselessness/ pillage me with your dreams/ stand me in a corner/ and do unto me as you will”
Frustration: “and the O’Miamis, and Art Basels and Ultras and Vice Miami’s that leave behind nothings and lure with them the best of us only leaving us wanting more”
Disgust: “Miami, you Whore!”
Disdain: “incestuous, unwelcoming, unloved, restless, overwhelming”
Love: “Pero como me encantas!”
Anger: “i don’t think a shit of you, miami”
Nostalgia: “My legs sticking to the leather seats in the summer heat”
And rarely but poignantly, acceptance: “They call you Holiday, I call you Home”
You will also encounter ghosts of our history (Tuttle, McDuffie, Batista) rubbing elbows with the celebrated figures of today (Lebron, Bourdaine).
There is the weather, of course, “stormy skies” menacing us in one line, “sweltering sweat” suffocating us in the next. Indeed, our “sun-drenched black-hole existence” battles the “vast vast ocean” for primacy throughout the poem.
There is cocaine. There is heroin.
There is Judaism: “far from being the olam haba”
There is Castro: “y ahora vamos pa Playa Giron (en sueño)”
There is the Magic Kingdom, Seaquarium, and “the five dolphins who played Flipper”.
There are at least five spellings of Miami: moreami, My Ami, O Me O My O My_Am_Me, Meeyahmee, Mayaimi.
There is all this and much more than I can deduce. It really has been amazing to watch Miami build this song of itself, with so many different rhythms and voices and melodies. With 12 days left in April — National Poetry Month, O, Miami month, and the predetermined lifespan of the epic — there is still much time for the poem to evolve. At its current pace, it will not be the same poem at midnight on May 1. Both in length and meaning, it will continue to change. Like Miami itself.
* Perhaps stands is the wrong verb for a poem that refuses to be still. Lines continue to come in as I write.