Tuesday, July 16, 2019

With O, Miami Poetry Festival, two excellent university creative writing programs, and countless open mics and community outreaches, it’s no question Miami has become an unlikely cradle for poetry. As the holiday season continues, surprise your friends and family with a book of those fine, sad, weird, musical, poignant, frenetic, contemplative, political, lyrical, and too often unloved artifacts known as poems. Here are five first books by local poets.

Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones (Hub City)

Don’t let the title deceive you. Though most of the poems were composed in Miami, the magic city in Magic City Gospel refers to Birmingham, Alabama. Winner of the 2015 Rona Jaffe Writers Award, Magic City Gospel plants the reader in the perplexing center of Alabama history. These are poems of prophecy and compassion. Yet Jones’ poems never leave you to bear America’s original sin (racism) without moments of redemptive praise: “I have waited / in this heat for you / to pucker / and say my name– / Hallelujah Alabama.”

Okay Cool No Smoking Love Pony by Annik Adey-babinski (Word Works)

Canadian-born Annik Adey-Babinski honed her chops in Miami too, and so many of the poems in Okay Cool No Smoking Love Pony draw on the surprising geographical kinship between the swampy sprawls of Florida with the wetlands surrounding Ottawa. She tells us each place is “Too close to the wild,” and the same can be said of the poet’s interior landscape. The unforced, wide range of this book is rare. The poems encompass subjects as grounded as car breakdowns in Wynwood to sickness-charged mysticism. But Babinski’s real gift is surprising you with the sudden sharp, gut-punching truth: “Since I’ve moved to America / I find myself more often thinking / I’d like to be rich / but what I mean is/ I’d like to feel safe I’d like to relax.”

All My Heroes Are Broke by Ariel Francisco (C&R)

Many of Francisco’s poems in All My Heroes Are Broke are those of a frustrated Miami native. They are most potent when grumbling from a place of reverence for the lyric tradition. As the title suggests, the poems often recall moments when the speaker is reading other poets; Robert Bly, John Keats, Phil Levine, and Jack Kerouac are but a few of the broke ghosts who keep him company. The book is most poignant when the hero-ghosts include the poet’s storied immigrant family members. But these poems never take themselves too seriously, as when he waxes Tu Fu-like while peeing on a foreclosed home: “I do my best to get every drop onto / the ugly white sign but fail miserably. / That gold coin of a moon appears, fat / and disapproving, and I think maybe / the frogs are crying for someone else.”

Ya Te Veo by P. Scott Cunningham (University of Arkansas Press)

Often busy fostering Miami literary life as the director of O, Miami and editor of Jai-Alai Books, it can be difficult to remember the P. Scott Cunningham is first and foremost a poet; his modesty has created a monster. Ya Te Veo, selected by Billy Collins as the winner of the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize, is the patient and thoughtful work of craftsman with heart. Titled after a tree that eats people, Ya Te Veo is not yet up for consumption, but you can pre-order the book today. In a time when hasty hot takes compete for our loyalty, we have much necessary, if uneasy, clarity to look forward to in Ya Te Veo: “The world is a bad, awful, no-good place. / We are the world.”

(Nec)Romantic by Cathleen Chambless (The Gorilla Press)

Cathleen Chambless in a poet and activist whose voice emerges from the often violent whimsy of Miami. These are poems steeped in the underworld of DIY witchery, lullabies, and punk houses. Deceptively playful, readers are teased along with Mother Goose-like rhymes to a dark alley rife with heartbreak, nightmares, and injustice. Though Chambless’ poems are so full of rage and cheeky melodrama, they forge a kingdom where vulnerability and compassion ultimately reign; where readers can feel free to “peel open their chests.”

WORDS BY: Marco Martinez

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