P. Scott Cunningham grinds South Florida. He is president of the University of Wynwood, and its press, which sells "limited- edition, ephemeral objects in order to raise money for the Lady Pythons Jai-Alai team." His poetry has been published in The Harvard Review,McSweeney’s Internet Tendency,Pool, Court Green, Cider Press Review, Roanoke Review, the Northville Review and Tigertail: A South Florida Poetry Annual. A nominee for a 2009 United States Artist Grant, P. Scott Cunningham also serves as president of the Miami Poetry Collective and editor of the Cent Journal Series.
Interview with P. Scott Cunningham
Hinchas: Could you please describe the mission of the University of Wynwood? Why create a make-believe university to promote the written and spoken word in Miami? Are you saying that academia is a vacuous pit of make-believe?
P. Scott Cunningham: Well, it’s not vacuous, but it’s certainly make-believe. In fact, I think we tend to admire the colleges and universities that exhibit the most fantastical qualities. The more gothic the campus, the more mysterious the admissions process, the more mythic the name, the more we seem to want to go there. (Not to mention secret societies.) Every school goes out of its way to create a hermetic family with its own rules and magical aura of knowledge-transfer, and like a religion, you have to buy into it to get anything from it. And that’s kind of why I started UW. I’m one of those true believers. I’ve always loved schools. And I guess I’ve always envisioned myself as a legendary professor at a college campus who smokes a pipe and teaches some crazy seminar on Jean Renoir and rides a bicycle. Because I don’t have a book out yet—and I knew, when I started UW, that my book needed a shit-load of work—I figured I’d just cut out the middleman and start my own college. I was already 30. I needed to do something with my life besides dominate fantasy basketball leagues.
Hinchas: How does the Miami Poetry Collective figure into all of this? Do the two groups work in conjunction to promote poetry reading and writing in Miami?
P. Scott Cunningham: The M.P.C. was a happy accident. Before I graduated from the M.F.A. program at F.I.U.(Florida Int'l University), I went to my professor Campbell McGrath and said, “Hey, let’s get some poets together on a regular basis to hang out.” Because I knew I was going to miss being in the environment. When we finally did it, Campbell pronounced it as the first meeting of the Miami Poetry Collective and made me President. Coincidentally, this was at the same time UW was finalizing its first lecture series, and over time, they’ve just sort of merged visions because I’ve gotten a clearer and clearer sense of the things I like doing, and I just happen to be the executor of both. They work in conjunction in as much as I work in conjunction with myself. However, the MPC has the benefit of being a ball of energy that doesn’t just depend on me. It’s really taken on a life of its own, thanks to the dedication of the members. UW on the other hand I still have to work hard to ram down Miami’s throat.
Frank O’Hara’s a good model because of his process—writing poems at lunch, writing poems with specific people in mind—but I think telephone calls is the wrong metaphor. A phone call implies a back-and-forth. The poems we write to order on the street are more like letters, though very strange letters because we often know nothing about the people we’re writing to or for. I think some of us really work hard to tailor the poem to the person, using whatever clues—the title, their appearance, mannerisms—they’ve been given, whereas other poets I think tend to bring the suggestion into their own wheelhouse. Some poets deliberately use the Depot as a factory for first drafts, which is pretty clever in my opinion and something I never would have thought of. I’m way too obsequious. I just want the customer to like me.
Hinchas de Poesia, Winter, 2010
Edited by Yago Cura & J. David Gonzalez
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