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'O Miami': When a City Writes a Poem

Posted: 04/24/11 01:22 PM ET

Jordan Melnick, editor of the popular blog BeachedMiami, has devised a way for his hometown to write a poem. Melnick is using his blog as a high-profile platform for an open-source poem, meaning anyone can add a line to an ever-growing chorus of voices.

Melnick dreamed up the project to help celebrate the month-long poetry festival O, Miami, which, he says, "strives to weave poetry into the fabric of the city by any means necessary." He hopes the project will result in the creation of a real-time epic poem for the city, and told the Miami Herald that he wants it to be a sort of "beating heart."

"Whereas the festival is trying to get people to encounter a poem, we are asking people to create a poem, and to do that together as a community," he said.

Melnick enlisted celebrated poet Matthew Zapruder to spark the poem. Zapruder wrote the opening line: "O Miami, like a river or a boulevard we begin somewhere,"

Another well-known poet, Denise Duhamel, also chipped in a line: "with a salt-and-peppered skipper at the helm. Miami, who are you?"

But it's clear from the poem's second line -- which is simply the word "but" -- that anyone who wants to contribute can do so. The result is a sort of beautiful mess. It's a bit like a city, with its energy ("O leotard bacon rock candy light"), its rhythms ("Like it is, like it was. We still wish, just because. Like a fish deep in scuzz. Hit the streets, find a buzz.") and its regrets ("Spring break, I did not lift my shirt for you.")

But the city is baring all for poetry. Melnick's poem now has more than 100 contributors and seems to be morphing into something quite remarkable. He initially planned to tie the poem's ending to the festival's, but now he isn't so sure:

"Is it ever going to be finished? Who knows, maybe we'll just leave it open, let it keep building forever. It could be kind of like Wikipedia: constantly being built and never having an end, just like the city. The city doesn't have an end."

You can watch the poem grow, and even contribute, here.