'O, Miami' Celebrates Verse With A Poem Per Person

Miami is going all out for National Poetry Month. A festival called O, Miami is trying to get every resident in Miami-Dade County — that's 2.5 million people — to "encounter" a poem in April.

To get that kind of reach, festival organizers had to think beyond bookstores and libraries. "We wanted to push past that, and put poems on buses, put poems on banners behind airplanes, put poems in restaurants," says festival founder, Miami poet Scott Cunningham. "It's very tempting as a teacher to delve into finger waving with poetry. I think sometimes we lose the fact that it's supposed to be pleasurable."

So Miami is taking poetry off the page. One artist is secretly sewing poems into thrift store clothes. Another is flying an airplane over Miami dropping hundreds of poems (printed on eco-friendly material) on the city. Curators for the How Pedestrian video series are going up to people on the street and asking them to read poems on camera. The city has secured some big names for some old-fashioned readings, including former poet laureate W. S. Merwin and polymath celebrity James Franco.

The Miami Herald is holding a haiku-writing contest based on South Florida news headlines. The winner of the contest gets tickets to that Franco reading, publication in the Herald and broadcast on WLRN. Here are some of the newsy haikus submitted so far.

The Governor's pen
Far mightier than his sword
Cuts fat, flesh, blood, bone.
- Phil Harley

Classroom news clippings
Fish swim in toxic water
Stapled wall of tears
- Nanette Avery

Truth torpedo launched
See Sheen's "winning" melt-down tour
Tiger blood required
- Michelle Lopez

The Herald welcomes submissions in English, Spanish or Creole — as long as poets adhere to the five-seven-five rule: five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, five syllables in the last. Here's a recent Spanish submission about Cuban singer Pablo Milanes:

Pablo Milanes
hace nueva confesion:
Now!: Liberacion!
(translation: Pablo Milanes / makes a new confession: / Now!: Liberation!)
- Mercedes Eleine Gonzalez

Those poems were all submitted by Floridians, but the contest is open to everyone, so consider that a challenge. Need a hint? "My advice would be to keep it lighthearted and concentrate on the cleverness of it," says poet Scott Cunningham. "Something that has a little bit of heart to it."

Aspiring poets are enthusiastically taking the bait. As submitter Mirta Oliva writes:

The haiku challenge
What a chance for those who dream
Of writing in verse.

If you're feeling inspired to submit a poem about South Florida news, visit the Miami Herald site to learn more about their haiku contest. And though NPR isn't having a contest, we hope you'll share your NPR news inspired poems in the comments section below. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.