O, Miami founder Scott Cunningham previews this year’s poetic event.
Something to Chew On, presented in partnership with Exchange for Change PHOTO COURTESY OF O, MIAMI
Scott Cunningham is the founder and executive director of O, Miami Poetry Festival (omiami.org), an annual literary event from April 1 to 30. In its 11th year, O, Miami continues its mission to give everyone in Miami access to poetry, seeing the change in public interaction due to COVID-19 as a creative challenge. We talk to Cunningham about O, Miami’s legacy and 2022 plans.
Kids’ poetry projected in a pool during O, Miami PHOTO BY: JAVIER SANCHEZ
O, Miami has initiated projects on rooftops, inside clothing, on gumball machines, via skywriting and more. What are your decade highlights?
My favorite projects have usually been the ones that brought me into places in Miami I wasn’t familiar with or introduced me to people I’d never met. I love seeing how different artists reinterpret Miami, like when Martine Syms turned the stuff Sam Cooke said onstage during his famous 1968 concert in Miami into a ‘found poem’ on a fence windscreen. Or when Julia Weist manipulated the search terms for ‘Miami inmate’ so that poems by actual Miami inmates auto-populated in the search bar. Standing on a boat on the Miami River and listening to poets read poems about places on the river we were passing was a very special experience.
O, Miami founder and Executive Director Scott Cunningham PHOTO BY: GESI SCHILLING
What will be on offer at the 2022 O, Miami Poetry Festival?
We’re assuming there will still be a global pandemic in April, so there will be a lot of poetry-in-public-places projects and online engagements to prioritize safety. That said, there are some great in-person, outdoor engagements, like a guided history tour of the Venetian Islands, a community quilting project, a wildflower workshop, a poetry and wine-tasting workshop, and an Ultimate Frisbee game. All of these experiences are led by artists in the community, so the festival is going to feel more Miami than ever.
O, Miami collects poetry by Miami citizens year-round to feature alongside professional writers during the festival and beyond. Why is this initiative so important to you?
When we started, we were just using poems by ‘canonical’ poets for our poetry-in-public-places projects. In 2014, we did our first elementary school workshop led by a brilliant poet named Laurel Nakanishi, and after we read the kids’ work, we realized that it would be more meaningful if the poems came from Miami itself. Now that model, which we call ‘civic publishing,’ is the center of our identity. It’s an ecosystem of sorts: Collect the poems from Miamians, broadcast them back to Miami, inspire more poems, repeat. It’s important because there are a lot of ways people in power can speak on behalf of Miami, but not many in which actual residents can do so. We hope by publishing the voices of Miamians we’re fighting against that one-way current.
O,Miami Poetry Festival tote. PHOTO BY: CHRISTINA FRIGO
Tell us about O, Miami’s other year-round partner programs.
Our other two programs are education and publishing. We teach poetry to students and adults, and we publish books that feature Miami voices or that we feel are relevant to Miami. I see all of these programs as part of that ‘civic publishing’ ecosystem. Using poetry and literature, we’re making space for a more nuanced, just and empathetic Miami to emerge.