‘My introduction to poetry was my introduction to Miami’

Wednesday Apr 20th, 2016

Blog > ‘My introduction to poetry was my introduction to Miami’


The introduction of a thing to someone is always spontaneous and timely. For me, my formal introduction to Miami came in Odes, Haikus, Pantoums, American Sentences, the notorious 30-for-30 challenge (NaPoWriMo), poems on public transit and street banners around the city, poetry picket lines drumming with verse, #ThatsSoMiami, a poetry reading in a South Beach alley, under the Betsy, and O,.

Oh Miami:
this is where the wind
slaps me tasting
like a Caribbean
cookbook filled with
uprooted recipes
grilled skin
and ginger beer.

The very year that I began studying poetry (my freshman year of high school) I received a 30-day field study from O, Miami with its subtle entrance into Miami like a black and white movie. Under the instruction of writer Jen Karetnick, I spent months learning the utilities of poetry in preparation for National Poetry Month’s writing challenge, known as “30 for 30” (thirty poems for thirty days), or NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month challenge). I remember writing my first poem as I traveled from school in Cutler Bay to Miami Arts Charter’s Biscayne & 39th Street campus. I tried to be inclusive and observe the people around me on the bus, but as I did I noticed most clearly the black and white banners at the top of the bus reading odes, vignettes, and quotes like pockets of poetry.

this is where // we skipped in two // Wynwood, wrote // a café closed

As I navigated through the vine-work of the Dade communities, Miami revealed itself to me in vignettes. I began to write snapshots of the county I’d known all my life but was only just seeing for the first time as something breathing. I picked up a newspaper left on the seat next to me, and began to black out lines and transform the words into a Found Poem. A woman I rode with every day on the bus—whose name I never learned—asked me what I was doing. In moments she’d fished a pen from her purse and got a page to join me. By the end of that month I’d had my first poem published in Poetry Matters’ 2011 competition, had my first poetry reading, first spoken word performance, and had a thorough understanding of poetry for the sake of capturing our distinct voices.

I remember when
I thought a manatee
was an instrument.
At the age sidewalks
carried months in them,
to the corners of January
& July, I saw a hurricane
in a car. Didn’t cross
when the white man
said walk. #ThatsSoMiami

Looking back, O, Miami built a lasting impression each year during National Poetry Month that was enough to carry an individual to the next festival. O, Miami has been behind the poetic development of Miami with its bridge-work. My development in writing has been aided by each festival. It has built intergenerational, multilingual, accessible, cultural, shared, and idiosyncratic bridges throughout all of Miami. Through events that spark the interests of whole communities, initiatives that infuse poetry into our daily lives, O, Miami helps to rewrite our city, and capture our national rhetoric every April.

pocket of sun
sewn to guayabera
it’s so hot
we’re cold

This festival and organization are blossoming. Writers like Anne Carson, Raúl Zurita, Shel Silverstein, W.S. Merwin, Kevin Coval, Patti Smith, Malcolm London, Richard Blanco, Jen Karetnick, Tracy K. Smith, Mia Leonin, Thurston Moore, Kevin Young, and a host of other voices have come to take part in or contribute to the festival. This organization and the month-long festival attract lovers of poetry from across the country, from artists to celebrities, and has reached the writing community at large. While I was studying in Chicago I met a poet from California who heard me say I’m from Miami. “You say Miami like it’s a state or something. I guess that’s so Miami. Have you heard of O, Miami?” It made me so happy to hear the poetic name come from lips of a different geography. The festival, city, Miami style, and sunshine love are stored into O,.

this is where // I had coffee // for the first time, // in that inch-cup.

Now as a college junior entering my sixth year as a writer, I can say I’ve grown with my city, the traffic, and with O, Miami. Right now in a largely transitional period, April has been my month of stability. O, has spent years building bridges to capture the city comprehensively. I know I speak for young writers as a whole when I say O, Miami is an organization that is unapologetically artistic and unashamedly Miami.

As a 2015 YoungArts Winner in Poetry, the opportunity to close out the festival I love in partnership with the National YoungArts Foundation and O, Miami is genuinely an honor. YoungArts alumni will gather on the nights of April 29 and 30 to share these voices of ours that have been rocked between waves of form and style. As a formal poet and spoken word artist, I will be sharing from each of those veins with my fellow alumni Ashley Gong (2016), Antwon Funches (2016), Simbaa Gordon (2016) and with special guests from Piano Slam.

O, Miami is certainly a sculptor of the cultural clay, and we, chewers of the established narrative. Through spoken word and readings we will shape our national rhetoric “from the mouths of the babes.” It will certainly be a relevant and engaging experience due to the diverse nature of each of us poets. Poets who have vocabularies formed from Miami’s shared cultural lexicon. O, Miami has forged itself as a ubiquitous symbol for April, pervading public space and Miami subconscious with a physical and psychological presence.
It is an honor to be a part of this Renku of a festival that just gets better every year. I hope that any and all who make it out leave Ted’s at YoungArts pulled in different tides and waves.

The next Pairings at Ted’s will take place on April 29 and 30, featuring spoken word and readings by YoungArts winners Ashley Gong (2016), Antwon Funches (2016), Simbaa Gordon (2016) and Christell Roach (2015), with special guests from Piano Slam. For more information, visityoungarts.org/teds.