For Better or Verse


P. Scott Cunningham

His story: P. Scott Cunningham can’t remember when his interest in poetry began. “I was supposed to be wrapping up my Hall of Fame baseball career right now,” he says. Instead, Cunningham has gone from scribbling unrequited love poems in college to becoming Miami-Dade County’s chief poetry ambassador. His festival—O, Miami—launched in 2011 and returned this past April with the lofty goal of introducing a poem to every Miami resident. Aided by a Knight Foundation grant and highlighted by live readings by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and this year’s presidential inauguration poet, Richard Blanco, the core of O, Miami involves integrating poetry into Miami’s infrastructure and cultural life—such as when, in 2011, a local artist clandestinely sewed poetry snippets onto items in thrift stores.

His style: Cunningham prefers his poems to be heard as well as read, and he says he’ll perform “anywhere. My performance style is all about clarity: clarity of speech, clarity of intention, clarity of emotion.” His works read the same way, vivid with everyday details, arresting analogies and surprising twists.


Two people, naked, in a gondola
suspended over Mt. Blanc.
Lightning strikes the tower, shorting the wires.
Wind and snow shake the gondola.
The two people are you
and your infant daughter.

You’re trying to think about your child
but you keep thinking about yourself.
Imagine you’re the child.

Imagine you’re a gondola in a blizzard.
Imagine the blizzard is inside the gondola.
Let go of the wire.

—from “Poems About Concentration for People Who Can’t Concentrate”

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