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.