For Nicholas Sutton, age nine, it was his second poem ever, inspired by the 1939 RCA Victor TRK 12 television on view in Art and Design in the Modern Age. An excerpt: “Hey TV, since you / came I haven’t played / baseball! Now I just sit on / my BUTT and watch you!” Did he enjoy writing the poem? “Yeah,” he said. Anna Tomas came straight to the museum from the airport, after traveling from Spain. She worried that her jet lag was reflected in her poem. “I love poetry,” she said. “I wish I could write it.” Despite her doubts, she gave it a try, turning in one of the sixty-two poems collected during O,Wolfsonian!, a day-long public program on April 25 during which museum admission was free in exchange for a poem.
Poems were submitted in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. Some were typed on the manual typewriters provided for that purpose, while others were handwritten.
O, Wolfsonian! was held in honor of National Poetry Month and in conjunction with the countywide O, Miami Poetry Festival. The event was the brainchild of Annik Adey-Babinski, a graduate student in poetry at FIU. She designed O, Wolfsonian! to help realize O, Miami’s mission of having everyone in the county encounter a poem during National Poetry Month. Adey-Babinski then worked with Regina Bailey, The Wolfsonian’s assistant director, special projects and academic initiatives, to produce the event.
After people visited the galleries and wrote the first drafts of their poems, they went to The Wolfsonian’s classroom where they could revise their poem and turn it in, either typed or handwritten. Adey-Babinski then scanned the poems, which were projected on a slide show in the classroom.
“People have been pretty excited, really receptive to it,” said Michael Martin, who like Adey-Babinski is a poetry graduate student at FIU. His job was to intercept people as they walked into the museum, hand them a clipboard, paper, pencil, and list of potential writing prompts, and instruct them to write a poem about any object in the museum.
Many of the participants struggled a bit with the manual typewriters, which were not in great working order, but that was part of the experience, said Adey-Babinski. “People are writing about old objects, and then they are using old objects to create their poem.”
“Very interesting,” a visitor from Russia commented after completing his poem.
Jorge Perez reported that his poem “came really easily.” Although he didn’t think it would be the “next bestselling poem in the world,” he welcomed the opportunity to write about one of his favorite objects in the museum, the continuous bust of Mussolini (Profilo continuo del Duce [Continuous Profile of the Duce]). His poem read, in part, “What do you collect? / He kept rotating his head away from me. / I never saw his face.”
Captions (click below to enlarge):
Installation view, Art & Design in the Modern Age—many of the O, Wolfsonian! poems were inspired by objects on view in this exhibition
Photo: Lynton Gardiner
Jamie Sutton, FIU associate professor and chairperson, Department of English, typing his son Nicholas’s poem