Pork, poetry, paradise, and pop

By | March 28th, 2011 | No Comments
Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Los Angeles-based poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi is headed east to Miami this week for the O, Miami poetry festival.

People often draw unflattering comparisons between Los Angeles and Miami. Traffic, corruption, vanity — both cities excel in all three. It is less common to hear someone cop to having a crush on the two metropolises. A poet, rarer still. But Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart (2005) and Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist Apocalyptic Swing (2009), isn’t your run-of-the-mill poetess. “I’m kind of in love with Miami,” the boxing aficionado, sports(ish) blogger, and award-winning poet told me.

In fact, she loves it so much she’s due in this weekend for the start of the O, Miami poetry festival. On Friday at Boater’s Grill, she and L.A. gallery owner Heather Taylor will host Eating Our Words, a combination of two wondrous phenomena: pork and poetry. Starting at 7 p.m., the event is a traditional Cuban pig roast with readings by poet Tracy K. Smith. Then, on Saturday, Calvocoressi and FIU professor-poet Denise Duhamel will do readings at the Abe’s Penny Live opening at ArtSeen Gallery in Wynwood. That event also starts at 7 p.m. and features photographs by Beached Miami’s own Robby Campbell. (Learn more about both events on omiami.org.)

I recently spoke to Calvocoressi about the “beautiful mess” that is Los Angeles, self-discovery as an erotic act, and what songs are making it onto her LAX to MIA playlist.

In an interview, you called Los Angeles a “poet’s paradise”. Why is that?

GC: Los Angeles is a city that continues to surprise me everyday. I think there’s a lot of similarities between Los Angeles and Miami. Both are cities that are constantly surprising. They’re truly international cities, and in that way they’re truly American cities because there are so many different people making this beautiful mess and in the midst of it making beautiful art. A lot of people have the wrong impression that there isn’t a real artistic and intellectual life in L.A. That’s absolutely not true. One of the things that I love — and I think this is true of Miami — is that there’s a sense that anything is possible and that you can dream in this incredible way. So in L.A., the one thing I found as an artist is that things like poetry and food and film and comics — all of this stuff can live together in an exciting way. I think it has something to do with the movie industry.

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Interview with U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin

By | March 11th, 2011 | 5 Comments

The future Poet Laureate of the United States: W.S. Merwin as a young man

A prolific writer and translator of poetry, W.S. Merwin was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States of America on October 25, 2010. Because he lives in Hawaii, on an old pineapple plantation which he restored to its original rainforest state (the 83-year-old Buddhist ascribes to deep ecology), Merwin will not be making many public appearances during his tenure.

But on April 30, he will give a reading at the New World Center in Miami Beach to close the month-long O, Miami poetry festival. O, Miami organizers P. Scott Cunningham and Peter Borrebach recently spoke to Merwin over the phone in advance of his visit. This is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Mr. Merwin, what’s your knowledge of Miami? Have you been here before?

WSM: I have been there, several times. [Miami’s] a paradoxical town in a lot of ways. I know Fairchild [Tropical Botanic Garden] very well.

We made a conservancy of our land here [in Maui]. We live on 19 acres, where I’ve planted over 850 species of palm. We’ve even been credited with saving one species of palm, hypon indica. You know, the whole planet is being paved under tarmac and asphalt, traded back and forth, so I’ve always wanted to save a bit of the earth’s surface.

And that’s what brought you to Fairchild?

WSM: Yes, I’ve been to Fairchild a number of times, and they’ve given me seed, which is one link between the gardens here and there. But there are all kinds of tie-ups that are important. William Kline used to be at Fairchild before he came to National Tropical Botanical Garden [on the island of Hawaii].

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Sweat Records and O, Miami launch new sites

By | March 10th, 2011 | No Comments

Congrats to two of Miami’s best — Sweat Records and O, Miami — on the (intentionally?) synchronized launch of their new badass websites today. The perfectly named sweatshopmiami.com is “a custom-built online web store to sell local music, books, fashion, and gifts to customers around the world. The site will create revenue for local artists, act as their mail order ‘back end’ (relieving the artists of chores such as packing, shipping, and billing), and create a centralized place where the true size and breadth of Miami’s creative output becomes undeniable.” Good for the artists, yes, but a game changer for Miami en general. Where else can you get Otto Von Schirach’s “Pukology” 2×7″, Jai-Alai Magazine #10, and a sexy red Churchill’s tank top? Before today, the answer was nowhere.

The official website for the O, Miami poetry festival, omiami.org is a stark, minimal beauty designed by artist David Reinfurt. The site has been up for a while but is now stocked with everything you need to know about O, Miami, “a hurricane of poetic activity” featuring James Franco, U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin, Anne Carson, rapper Jean Grae, and Broken Social Scene’s Andrew Whiteman, to name just a few of the amazing folk involved in the month-long verse fest that starts April 1.

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Words and Wine Open Mic at the American Legion

By | January 6th, 2011 | 42 Comments
Hello Kitty

W&W is an opportunity for humans and kittens alike to enjoy poetry, music, and vibes ... vibes.

Words and Wine is the kind of feel-good convergence of poetry reading, acoustic instruments, and neo-hippieism that may make some uncomfortable in our cynical day. Held, strangely, at the American Legion hall two and a half blocks east of Biscayne Blvd on 64th Street, the event is a free-form open mic fueled by cigarettes, cheap beer (on tap at the American Legion’s bar, Harvey’s by the Bay), and friendship of high school vintage. Words and Wine is organized by a gal named Nikki Rodriguez, who used to host the event at her home before it became popular enough to require a bigger venue. Dusty and dated, the American Legion sports billiard tables, plenty of inside space, an expansive bayside backyard, and a huge parking lot. Like Churchill’s a few blocks away, it is an unlikely sanctuary to get drunk, sing loud, and burn one down without worrying about the cops showing up. Fair warning: this is indeed “not the place to go if you are looking to crush it on Humpday”. Words and Wine is laid-back, dressed-down, and kinda cheesy in its Dazed-and-Confused-meets-Miami-hipsterdom/amateur-astrologers way. But in a cynical world, sometimes you need an unbridled love fest. Words and Wine has you covered.

Here are a few pics from last night’s W&W.

Finger Painter


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O, Miami seeking bus poem recommendations

By | January 5th, 2011 | 2 Comments

I received a University of Wynwood newsletter this morning beseeching Miamians (that’s you) to recommend poems to place in Miami’s transit system during the O, Miami poetry festival in April. The initiative, called Poetry in Motion, started in 1992 when the Poetry Society of America partnered with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Now the PSA and O, Miami — whose director, Scott Cunningham, we interviewed last month — are teaming up to make your commute a bit more poetic (as if Miami’s busses weren’t sentimental enough … ). Check out the newsletter below for more details. And here’s my verse recommendation, which I think captures your average public commute (the waiting, the slow crawl) rather well.

“I’m waiting for my man,
Twenty-six dollars in my hand.
Up to Lexington, 1-2-5,
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive.”

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Miami Poets, Stand Up and Be Counted!

By | December 15th, 2010 | 4 Comments

The goal of the O, Miami poetry festival is to have each of Miami-Dade County’s 2.6 million residents encounter a poem during this coming April (the cruelest month). It is a lofty goal, to be sure, and to get the ball rolling the University of Wynwood, a fake university with the real mission of weaving contemporary poetry into the fabric of Miami’s everyday life, announced the Miami Poet Census yesterday. UW, which is producing the festival with Knight Foundation funding, wants all of the city’s poets — published or not — to give their names, email addresses, zip codes, and a snippet of verse that says something about them as versifiers. Earlier today I spoke to UW director Scott Cunningham about the O, Miami census and why poetry isn’t like a bowl of oatmeal, among other things.

In your TEDx Miami lecture, you called poetry useless (see below). If it is useless, then why does Miami need a poetry festival?

Even though poetry is useless, I think people still care about it. There’s a lot of things in our lives that are probably useless — practically speaking — that we care about anyway. I’ve been out there doing the poetry thing, planning events and talking about it, for a couple of years now, and pretty much everyone I talk to says something along the lines of, “Oh, I really like poetry. I used to write it, but I haven’t really kept up with it.” Most people have some experience with poetry that is important to them, but for whatever reason it’s been buried and placed in some compartment in their head, which is The Past. So we wanted to design a festival that was specifically catered to people who care about poetry but would probably not come to a poetry reading.

In organizing the festival, have you run into people with competing philosophies about poetry, people who don’t necessarily consider it useless or who don’t think it is meant for mass enjoyment?

Yes and no. Amongst the poets I know here in Miami, there’s definitely competing philosophies. Even here in the office, we argue all the time. I would love for more people to argue about poetry. That’s not the problem. I would love for someone to come along with a competing philosophy because that would mean someone else cares about it. What we’re battling is not aesthetics. It’s people not even thinking about it. It’s not that they are anti-poetry. It’s just not something they even think about, because you don’t encounter it in daily life like you do with film and music and especially art in Miami. These other art forms, you can’t avoid them. Poetry is kind of hidden. I believe it is there — that’s the whole point of this festival. We’re just trying to shed a light on it.

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New Yorker Winks at Miami Lebron James Poetry Contest

By | October 25th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Lebron James Sketch

Lebron James snubbed New York when he chose to take his talents to South Beach. Now, on the eve of the Miami Heat’s season opener, the New Yorker has exacted a measure of satisfaction by covering the Miami Herald and WLRN King James poetry contest with brows raised customarily high. The tone of the Ben McGrath piece isn’t overtly condescending, but, considering the New Yorker’s historic role as a gatekeeper of American poetry, I can’t help reading it through Eustace Tilley’s haughty monocle. (“O Lebron, My Lebron” appears in the precious “Dept. of Iambs,” for Naismith’s sake.)

I’m sure New Yorkers, still smarting from the King-sized rebuff, will be snickering in the subways as they read McGrath’s piece. To them, I offer the following six lines (the maximum length of contest entries):


Has a “ring” to it, no?