1. In February, I met with P. Scott Cunningham and Pete Borrebach for lunch at a noodle house. I couldn't find the place at first because it was lodged in the lobby of a motel on Biscayne Boulevard that, in years past, was known more for hookers and guns and rock (and I don't mean 'and roll'). But this neighborhood has now reinvented itself --as is also the city of Miami's custom-- into a hamlet of galleries, eateries, and indie mom and pop shops. There are things to do here besides driving by with locked car doors. Scott and Pete were working on their own newborn - O, Miami, the city's first poetry festival.
I ate basil and tofu and listened to their schemes: they were going to try to place if only one poem into the hands of my hometown's 2.5 million citizens, regardless of whether they liked poetry or not. Scott and Pete were most interested in the latter, the possible converts, and they knew how to set the trap. They'd woo the city with a relentless courtship. O, Miami would wrap buses with couplets, fly in W.S. Merwin, the sitting U.S. poet laureate, invite Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, hip hop legend Kool Moe Dee, actor-now-writer James Franco, and many more to speak and read, host collaborative art shows and a literary death match, surreptitously sew poetry tags into shirts at thrift stores, drop poems from the sky, rent a Ferrari. They had a lot of wild ideas. Had they locked it all down yet? No. When would the festival launch? In about 6 weeks and running the whole month of April. I smiled and slurped my dripping and delicious noodles. I thought a) These guys are crazy. b) God, I hope they do it. All of it.
2. Abe's Penny Live. The Brooklyn-based publishing house opens its first exhibit at O, Miami, with readings by Denise Duhamel and Gabrielle Calvocoressi and photographs by Lee Materazzi, Francie Bishop Good, Samantha Salzinger, and Robby Campbell, whose image I've swiped (below left).
The gallery is filled with literatis climbing over wood pallets that have been nailed together to form a kind of writer's club-and-tree-house installation. Pencils and paper provided, as are postcards from which to make a bit of mail art. Some of them are already hanging on the walls and some are stacked into racks at the ready. And whether it's on an electric typewriter or with a bouquet of long-stemmed beauties (below right), visitors oblige. While Denise Duhamel reads a beautiful poem about all that she sees in Georgia O'Keeffe's Pelvis of Blue, ( "a nest with a hollowed-out bottom") or bluebirds on the branch of her hip bone, Campbell McGrath sits next to me, asks for a sheet of paper from my own notebook, which I am writing in because Denise's words have conjured my own. Don't you sometimes get the best sparks from hearing someone else read her poems? I do. I ask Campbell what he's written. "It's not finished yet," he tells me," and I see Denise's voodoo has worked on him as well.
3. Poetry. South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-Dong follows Mi-ja, a 60 year old woman who quietly goes about righting wrongs and fulfilling her dream of becoming a poet. Favorite parts: her workshop teacher telling the class that to write, one must first see, which reminded me of W.H. Auden's own Rx for poets: "The first act of writing is noticing." Also, I loved when a neighbor asks her what she's doing sitting outside her front stoop beneath a tree. "Listening," she replies.
4.The helicopter. Somewhere in Coral Gables, 425 poems are dropped from a chopper at lunch time. Artist Jonathan Lizcano, who manned the project along with Ximena Izquierdo, tells me the flutter of white was made with 50% cotton, 50% abaca fibers, and no sizing. Sizing is what makes paper water resistant. These poems, as with all things of beauty, will disappear soon, most likely in the next downpour. Submissions came from New York, Alabama, Vermont, Oregon, and the Dominican Republic, with a good chunk of verse arriving from elementary schools in Boston. Here are the last three lines from a poem by Dean Lyew:
5. The Ferrari.A transporter delivers a Ferrari 360 GT Spyder to Flamingo Park on Miami Beach. Poet and publisher Dave Landsberger picks up fellow scribe Parker Phillips. They roll up and down on Ocean Drive and read Frost, Issa, and Elizabeth Bishop, James Wright's "Lying on A Hammock..." set to Beck's "Loser," as well as some of their own poems. On Lincoln Road, it's Whitman and Landsberger's ode to Miami, "History Fair." People clap, whip out camera phones. Evidence of the event's success: the cops are summoned. The drive heads 30 minutes north, to the city of Aventura, where more poets converge with a megaphone on South Florida's most sacred ground: the Aventura Mall.
In North Miami, Dave reads Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay" to the employees at Checkers on 163rd Street. More Whitman in front of a Wal-Mart. Back on Miami Beach, he races a guy in a BMW 335is. As soundtrack, his friend Mauricio reads Basho. I hope it was this one:
Dave beats the Beemer. Round two he loses. "I got the Ferrari up to 120 mph on I95," he writes me in an email. "The reading lasted from noon to around 6 p.m. I filled it up once, with premium gas, for the first time in my life." Cost of gas: a mere 27 bucks. Who knew such flash could be frugal?
Here's Dave Landsberger, reciting "The Motley Crue Poem" for the Poetry Ferrari project at O, Miami:
6. Closing day.
That would be today. Right now, while I'm sitting at home, sweaty and with crazy hair, writing to you by a window overlooking bottlebrush trees and the inlet, Raul Zurita is reading with Jill McDonough and Brian Turner at the New World Center, an edifice swept with light and glass so translucent, it seems to disappear in the sun. Later tonight, the building will glow from seam-to-seam, and I'll be inside it, listening to Mexican poet Carla Faesler and W.S. Merwin, a reading I almost missed because tickets sold out early. Maybe Miami loves poetry after all. Shout out to Scott's mom, Carolyn Cunningham, for passing along the extra seats she had. Thanks, O, Miami, for making April more than the last respite before the hot gavel of summer falls upon us. Thank you for helping me worry less, dream more.