Several decades ago, choosing the best local poets in Miami might have been easy. Simply put, there weren’t that many versifiers ’round these subtropical parts. But given the advent of undergraduate guiding lights like the Florida Center for Literary Arts at Miami-Dade College, which along with the ever-present and ever-steady Books & Books, sponsors the Miami International Book Fair; writer hangouts such as The Betsy South Beach and Luna Star Café; and the innovative University of Wynwood – well, it’s a tough contest. Still, if you go by awards, popularity and (apologies in advance—this doesn’t necessarily indicate age) veteran status, a few poets immediately spring to mind. — Jen Karetnick
Speaking of spring, with books like “Spring Comes to Chicago,” “American Noise” and “Florida Poems,” poet Campbell McGrath traverses the national landscape of verse metaphorically and geographically. Whether he’s writing lines that cast him as the observer of “millennial hootenanny of ludic glee” or as a participant, “holding, in my palm, the leathery, wine-colored purse of a pomegranate,” he is always bound to “realize, yet again, that America is a country about which I understand everything and nothing at all.” By sharing such insights, of course, he makes us realize too – which is what great poets are supposed to do. The fact that he lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University makes him local and us lucky.
Another poet who gives back to grad students at Florida International University, Denise Duhamel displays a keen sense of satire combined with a thorough knowledge of prosody. The author, most recently, of “Ka-Ching!, Two and Two” and “Mille et un sentiments,” she veers from feminist to formalism – she’s known, for example, just as much for her early series of “Barbie” poems as she is for her more recent, humorous sestina based on Sean Penn’s name. With Duhamel, you never what to anticipate, except for the fact that while she may leave to tour her latest work, she’ll always return home to us.
Miami is home to another poet of national stature, but this local poet – Ricardo Pau-Llosa – sees the Magic City as a place of political refuge. That’s because this Cuban-born poet and art critic, whose most recent releases include “The Miami of the Poet,” Miami-inspired poems by Ricardo Pau-Llosa and photographs by James Gersing, and “Parable Hunter,” a book of poems, often considers himself an “exilio,” or exile, and frequently writes from that point of view. Yet his poetry also reveals a tenderness, fascination with and love for the Magic City, as it does for its denizens from humans to egrets: “They are too large for the tangling city scene/the dusty roar, the trash, blares, and edges/of its speeds. And yet they alight serene/on median strips and blank lawns, the richest/beast in view.”