Aesthetic Drift #20 by Rose Lopez
O, Miami’s Poetry in Pajamas
As parents, my husband and I are constantly looking for things we can do with our kids. So when I first look over the calendar of events for the O, Miami Poetry Festival, I know right away we’ll check out their Poetry in Pajamas event at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens on Friday, April 12th.
We arrive a little late (another symptom of parenting) and pass ponds and kids and parents in pajamas playing cornhole and giant Jenga in the grass. Toward the back of the garden is a large Banyan. A small stage strung with Edison bulbs and a hand-painted sign is set up underneath the tree. To the right of the stage, a band plays; the woman sings about the joy of mangoes. (Later, I will realize the band is Afrobeta, a local duo described by the Miami New Times as “a match in disco-house heaven.”)
People have blankets and chairs set up on the lawn in front of the stage. My three-year-old is immediately drawn to a bubble machine. We will return to the bubbles many times over the course of the evening.
Afrobeta takes a seat, and two young boys stand on stage to emcee. They recite poems. “You probably know this poem,”the younger boy says, and points to his brother. “Sam wrote it!”It is about a whale.
“Whose kids are these?”my husband wonders aloud. “They’re great.”
A woman standing nearby overhears. “They’re hers,”she says, pointing to another woman in a halo of bubbles.
The woman is Sara Kaplan, the creator of Poetry in Pajamas, now in its second year.“My boys used to write poems together in their bunks when they were younger,”she tells me. “They submitted them to O, Miami, and the event just kind of grew from there.”
At 7 o’clock, Kaplan’s boys, Sam, 10, and Simon, 7, open the mic to the kids in the crowd. Shel Silverstein is a popular source for the participants. Some kids read off their phones. One girl introduces her poem by saying, “I just wrote this ten minutes ago.”The poem is about the courage it takes to get onstage and read aloud.
The extra incentive to participate in the open mic is entrance into a raffle to win a Poetry in Pajamas backpack. I am sorry my three-year-old can’t yet read, nor has she memorized any poems, because she loves backpacks. But many of the kids who do get on stage are not much older than my daughter.
Near the lawn, there’s a patio with food and vendors. Some kids are selling friendship bracelets they braid themselves. A young woman is offering free manicures to children. There’s a cart selling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bowls of cereal. Another selling crepes. Different kinds of fruit-infused water are free. Wine and beer is up for sale to the adults.
Apart from poetry and bubbles, the kids in the garden are drawn to the natural environment. My three-year-old spends a good portion of the night begging quarters off my husband to stick in a machine for a handful of fish food. She tosses it into the ponds where there are huge koi and a turtle.
My nine-month-old crawls in the grass, tries to follow the bigger kids onto a large rock. By the end, she is coated in a fine dirt. She is not the only one.
Much of the time, the poetry functions as ambient noise. But I love how homegrown everything feels, like a lemonade stand. There’s a wonderful organized chaos to the evening that makes me nostalgic. It’s the kind of good, clean fun I remember as a kid. It’s the kind of good, clean fun I hope my kids will remember when they’re older, and then write poems about.
The O, Miami Poetry Festival has poetry springing up all over Miami in April. Learn more here.
Rose Lopez is working toward her MFA in creative writing from Florida International University. She also contributes content for the Miami International Book Fair. Her first short story was published with Big Muddy earlier this year. She lives in Miami with her husband and two children.