Three years ago, a group of friends and I started to dream up what a lot of people considered impossible: a festival that would bring poetry to all 2.6 million residents of greater Miami.
At that time, Miami’s cultural scene was exploding. Art Basel was in full force, and we wanted to do a festival that was the opposite of the “pipe-and-blazer” readings that most people associate with poetry. We wanted to do a festival that reflected Miami’s diversity and personality.
In April, we invited unpublished writers to submit their work as part of our Write South Florida contest. There were three categories in the contest: Amateur, College, and Children. These are the runners-up from the contest in the College category.
Hundreds of Miami-Dade middle and high school students listened to “Two Pianos” by Morton Gould. Afterwards, they wrote poems inspired by the music. It was part of a contest called the Piano Slam. The point is to inspire young people, using classical music, to create their own forms of artistic expression.
When you see a book titled Florida Poems, you might imagine titles and verses about bright sunshine and sand-swept beaches, with a picturesque Key West sunset thrown in. You know, kind of like the poetry version of those generic landscape paintings that hang in every Florida seaside motel? (With the exception of paintings by the Florida Highwaymen, but that’s another story for another time.)
Host Alicia Zuckerman was intensely curious about how young poets graduating with Masters of Fine Arts degrees expect to make money. Since the average poetry journal pays just $20 for a poem, it’s not exactly a way to make a living. Sure, writing by candlelight because you can’t pay FPL has a certain romance to it, but what happens when you run out of matches? So how do poets expect to pay their bills?
When Richard Blanco got the call that he'd been chosen to write a poem for President Obama's second inauguration, at first he thought it was a prank. He still has no idea how he ended up on the President's radar.
"I would dream actually that the President has actually read my work and was so moved by it," says Blanco, laughing, "that he said, 'I want this guy to read a poem at the inaugural.'"
Richard Blanco is home now, back in Miami after a six-year journey that launched the award-winning poet and FIU double-graduate into what was supposed to be the “real America.”
“The great prodigal return,” he calls it, the irony evident in his voice – not only about the places he’s been, but about the place he’s come back to. The journey has shaped much of Blanco’s recent poetry, and his evolving sense of identity as a writer, as the son of Cuban immigrants and as an American.