Miami is transforming before our eyes, becoming a mecca for artists, drawing crowds of people hungry for culture. Few events in Miami are so eagerly anticipated as the Miami Book Fair, an annual, weeklong celebration of local, country-wide and international writers both new and established. In the 2012 lineup is Campbell McGrath reading from his new book, In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys.
For those of you who don’t remember, sea monkeys are those perennially disappointing shrimps marketed to kids as underwater marvels akin to mini-mermaids. For this pop-reference alone, I’m enthusiastic about his new book. However, McGrath shouldn’t be a new name to those living in Miami. He teaches creative writing at Florida International University, has read at many local events and writes innovative poetry that often touches on Florida (and sometimes shrimp). In a favorite poem “Hemingway Dines on Boiled Shrimp and Beer,” he writes, “I’m the original two-hearted brawler./I gnaw the scrawny heads from prawns,/pummel those mute, translucent crustaceans,/wingless hummingbirds, salt-water spawned.”
McGrath is especially interesting to us writers who try to balance full teaching schedules and still find time to dig deep and get our own words down on the page. In a recent interview with Jeff Simpson, published in The Fiddleback, McGrath explains his “erratic” writing process: “If my teaching schedule is busy, my family life, and I’ve got lots to do at the university, I get less writing done—sometimes nothing very useful for a month… Sometimes it comes easily, you get into a groove, you write every day, generating poem after poem. Sometimes the well is dry, I waste my time playing computer games, the only poems in my head seem to exist on the far side of a vast Sahara of difficulty.” Yet, McGrath has managed to write seven books of poetry and has received prestigious fellowships from the Guggenheim and the MacArthur foundation.
McGrath is no slouch when it comes to technology: You can find his poem “Nights on Planet Earth” animated on PBS’s website at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/poetryeverywhere/uwm /mcgrath.html. And he has a Facebook page where you can keep up with his news or just hop on and say hello. But the best way to get to know a poet’s work is to hear them in person, to talk to them and ask questions. Writers at the Miami Book Fair often leave time for a question-and-answer session, and they’re always available after the event to sign work and (hopefully) hear a word of praise or two. Any poet of McGrath’s talent who admits to playing computer games is a rare find. His reading is sure to be interesting.
While a confirmed list of authors has been published, a program schedule for the Miami Book Fair International is not yet available. For a full listing of readings and events, visit the Miami Book Fair International website after November 1: www.miamibookfair.com.