"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," wrote English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1821 in his essay "A Defense of Poetry."
Poetry and song have a long history of being vehicles for social change. Just think of John Lennon's "Imagine," Martin Luther Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," or Maya Angelou "Still I Rise." Poetry is often a voice for the dispossessed that inspires understanding from others, leading to awareness and change.
In current conflicting times, we need poetry more than ever. O, Miami gets it. The Magic City's fete of poesie commences on Saturday, April 1 with "Singing in the Dark Times: Poetry & Social Justice at the Bandshell."
The event will bring various social justice organizations together with poets for an evening of reading and networking. About kicking-off this year's festival with a social justice element, O, Miami Poetry Festival Director Scott Cunningham said: "In the present-day climate, it just felt right. I think a lot of people are realizing (if they hadn't already) that art and politics are fully intertwined and pretending otherwise is foolish. We wanted to put together an event that welcomed community organizations or local chapters of larger organizations committed to social justice so that rather than doing a thematic event, we were creating a space where people could take action."
Some of the organizations participating in the event include Amnesty International, Black Lives Matter (Broward Chapter), Emerge Miami, Engage Miami, Community Justice Project, Planned Parenthood, Dream Defenders, ACLU, Center for Social Change and Pridelines.
Performing poets for the event are Patricia Smith, author of "Incendiary Art," Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, poet, essayist, and MTV columnist, Aja Monet, the youngest Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam Champion, Ashley M. Jones, author of the forthcoming "Magic City Gospel," and Cathleen Chambless, author of "Nec(Romantic)" and co-author of queer/feminist zine "Phallacies."
Spoken word using figurative language tunes into people's universal, human emotions allowing for discourse that leads to more democratic and just society for all. Cunningham explained the relationship: "The connection is whatever you make it. For us, if you're a reader of poetry or you're a poet, you should be attuned to the world in a variety of ways. Part of that means being aware of how the structures around you either facilitate art or constrict it. Poetry is ultimately about gaining access to the thoughts and feelings of others, which means empathy, and if you believe in empathy, you should probably have an opinion about political policies that allow for it to flourish, or attempt to snuff it out."
But poetry is also fun, instilled in music like jazz and by groups like the Beatles, and O, Miami gets that too. They don't take it too seriously. They collaborate with the community in order to create a month long series of events that has something for everyone. "We partner with a variety of individuals and organizations to create the events. It's very important to us that the festival is inclusive from a creative standpoint. Each fall, we do a call for event and project ideas from the community and then we work collaboratively with those people to realize their ideas," detailed Cunningham. Other events and features in this years line-up include "Bad Poetry," "Comedy Night," "Poo-etry," "Family Day at PAMM with Afrobeta Poetry Bus," "Queer and Trans Yoga + Poetry," and "Miami Zine Fair."
Poetry like other art forms has the power to bring people together in a space of compassion, openness, and sensitivity. Cunningham said "Being humane means, first and foremost, recognizing the humanity of others. It's difficult to do that if you can't sit down and listen to another person and attempt to put yourself in his or her place. Reading a poem means you're attempting to do just that - to feel what someone else felt. If you can make that leap, you're well on your way to treating other people with decency."
The festival continues throughout the month of April, national poetry month, with daily events.
For more information and a full schedule of events, visit www.omiami.org/
"Singing in the Dark Times: Poetry & Social Justice at the Bandshell"
6 to 10 p.m., Saturday, April 1
North Beach Bandshell
7275 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL, 33141 United States