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Poetry In Motion: A Chat With O, Miami's P. Scott Cunningham

Robby Campbell
From the NEA website

P. Scott Cunningham is the founder of O, Miami, a biennial poetry festival in Miami organized by the University of Wynwood and with support from the Miami-based Knight Foundation. The festival is happening this month.

WLRN: Tell us a little bit about yourself. The real P. Scott Cunningham. 

Cunningham: I'm all about three things: Miami Heat basketball, Christina Frigo, and chihuahua-related Instagram feeds.

WLRN: If you could have a beer with any poet, dead or alive, who would it be?

Cunningham: Shakespeare. Besides the suspense of seeing whether the Earl of Oxford would show up instead, I really would like to ask him questions about Hamlet, the Sonnets etc. Or John Keats. Yes, I change my answer. John Keats.

WLRN: What is O, Miami? 

Cunningham: A month-long poetry festival with the mission of reaching every single person in Miami-Dade County with a poem. Basically, it's an experiment in the delivery of literature to new audiences. How do we get poems to people who would never go to a poetry reading? In doing that, we try to empower local creative people to take ownership of the festival. The festival is a mix of my sensibilities and the Knight Foundation's mission to "make art general." For a longer philosophical discussion, visit knightarts.org/omiami.

WLRN: What's the funniest thing that happened last year? The most intense?

Cunningham: You mean, at the festival? Or in my life? I'm just going to assume you mean the former and say that the funniest thing was Dave Landsberger reading poems inside of a Ferrari with a bullhorn. And the most intense was Raul Zurita reading poems about the Disappeared in Chile.

WLRN: This is your second event. What is different this year?

Cunningham: The main difference is that a much greater percentage of the festival is being produced by other people and organizations. Miami itself is really producing this thing. We're responsible mostly for the final weekend.

WLRN: You have a partnership with WLRN, a social media push to have people tell the world what describes our city with the hashtag #thatssomiami. Tell us some good ones and an original P. Scott Cunningham one. 

Cunningham: Well, I would say just go read Tumblr. I read it everyday and it's hilarious and awesome. My contribution would be: "Hey person-I'm-interviewing, go do my journalism for me. #ThatsSoMiami."

WLRN: Sticking with social media, Megan Amram has a very popular Twitter feed and to a certain extent, her fame can be traced to her involvement with this project. What has Twitter and other social media done for poetry? What else can it do? 

Cunningham: Twitter (to narrow down your question) has definitely given a bump to a few careers. D.A. Powell is a fabulous poet and a very generous & funny personality on Twitter. His following transcends the genre, which is good for all of us. Then there's people like @Largeheartedboy who covers a range of cultural topics. By including poetry on a fairly frequent basis, he puts it on the same level as music and film, thereby leveling the arts coverage playing field in a way that traditional media outlets refuse to do. For example, The New York Times Book Review still does not print an "end-of-the-year" top ten list for poetry. This is not a space concern. It's a message: your art form is NOT literature. In terms of Twitter-as-content, I think the compression of the form is perfectly tailored for poets, and years from now, I'm sure we'll realize that some masterpiece was being constructed right under our noses.

WLRN: Who is a famous Miami poet? What about one that's new and upcoming that everyone should read?

Cunningham: In English, not many. Donald Justice. In Spanish, there's a lot more. Lorenzo Garcia Vega. Ricardo Pau-Llosa. This town has been the temporary residence for a lot of great Latin American poets. Up and coming? He's only a part-time Miamian but Frank Baez is amazing. 

WLRN: If you could suggest WLRN's readers only make it to two events in April, what would they be? 

Cunningham: The Poetry is Dead Parade at noon on Sunday, April 28th in Lummus Park. It's going to be weird, in a good way. On Friday, April 26th we have a reading at The Freehand/Broken Shaker that crosses poetry with tattoo art. People can sign up to get a Miami-themed tattoo they'll totally regret when they move to L.A. The complete schedule is here

WLRN: Tell us why you love Miami. And why we should love poetry. 

Cunningham: I love Miami because it's not like any other city in the U.S. It's more diverse and less "curated." Every time I think I understand it, I discover some aspect that changes everything. I love poetry for the same reasons.