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O, Miami Founder: Florida Poet Laureate Should Be Advocate Of Fun

Scott Cunningham newspaper photo
O, Miami

Florida could soon appoint a cultural ambassador of sorts to help spread the word—about words. A bill creating a state poet laureate position seems poised to soon meet the governor’s pen.

The O, Miami Poetry Festival is going on now. The month-long fest is back for its fourth year. Executive Director and founder, 35-year-old poet Scott Cunningham, says the goal for this year’s fest is the same as always: “We try to deliver a poem to every single person in Miami-Dade County.”

To attempt that, O, Miami goes beyond poetry readings and book signings. Programs have included poetry-infused dance and film—and even a basketball tournament this coming weekend.  

“When people are on the bench or in time-outs or stuff like that, you know, we’ll have little mini-readings,” Cunningham says.

He says the approach his festival takes—trying to show people how much fun poetry is—should also be the role of the proposed Florida State Poet Laureate.

“The people who take on the position should take it on as an advocacy position, but not an advocacy position in the way of, ‘Oh, I should tell you how good this is for you,’ like, ‘It’s time to eat your poetry oatmeal,’” he says.

Florida’s last Poet Laureate, Ed Skellings, died two years ago after having served a life term. A heart attack had left him incapacitated for about a decade before that.

The Florida House has passed a bill limiting poet laureate terms to four years and outlining how nominees would be vetted by a state cultural council, the secretary of state and finally the governor.  

Florida State Poets Association President Joe Cavanaugh has been among those pushing for the new process.

“The four-year term will be spent furthering poetry, promoting poetry, particularly in our schools,” he says. “We think we need to work with young people to get them interested in poetry and to realize that, in the words of Peter Meinke, who is currently the Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg, Florida, ‘Poetry is the emotional history of the world.’”

That goal has book worms excited the poet laureate program might continue. Key West Island Bookstore manager Suzanne Orchard says she supports anything that gets kids to pick up a book or a pen.

“Poetry is usually a good starting point for a lot of people that are interested in writing,” she says.

When the bill unanimously passed the House, sponsoring Rep. Dan Raulerson (R-Plant City) celebrated with a poem of his own:

I am honored to have presented in prose the poetry bill to my House colleagues, and who knows? It may pass both houses and, what's more, It may be signed by the gover-nor.

Perhaps that’s true.

Time will tell

if the vote in the Senate

goes as well.