Life is a Conversation: The Art and Poetry of Sami Miranda
Updated: Jun 20, 2020
I first met Sami Miranda at the American Poetry Museum in Washington, D.C. The space is small, but it has a powerful presence. A young man sat at a table in the center of the room painting as Sami instructed him on how to create detailed lines and shadows. Sami stepped away from teaching to give me a history of the museum and a tour of the art on display. At the time, the walls were lined with art created by artists in D.C. and Madrid--each piece created in conversation with other artists, a call and response. Founded in 2004 by Jon West Bey, the museum continues to bring joy to its surrounding community. For many years it was also home to the Intersections reading series curated by Fred Joiner. Nowadays, the museum transforms a few times a month into a space where poets take the stage and remind audiences of the power of storytelling.
For the past few years Sami has been curating exhibits at the museum and cultivating a community of poets and lovers of poetry. While he has immense pride in being Boricua from the Bronx, Sami proudly calls himself a D.C. poet. The joy in his voice when talking about the poet community here in D.C. is impossible to ignore. This community that Sami calls home, is bursting with talent and passion. He talks about poets like DJ Renegade, John Murillo, Ernesto Mercer, Reuben Jackson, or Kenneth Carrol as if he were talking about family. Before social distancing was a thing, you could easily catch Sami in a jazz and poetry session, jamming out with musicians like Pepe Gonzalez, Ivan Navas, or Taimoor Saeedi. These creators, poets and musicians alike, are his community and his inspiration.
A poet, educator, and visual artist, it’s hard to believe that a person as charismatic and dedicated as Sami ever went through life unnoticed. At a young age, Sami realized that the best way for him to get by was to disappear into the background. A quiet and introverted kid from the Bronx, he often found himself ditching class to head downtown. On the subway, Sami would just sit and observe the world around him, cataloguing each interaction and experience in the back of his mind. As a young man, Sami learned to channel these observations into works of art, capturing the stories of the people he met along the way through poetry and paint.
Sami’s ability to observe and create runs in the family. He recalls asking his abuelo to tell him stories of the past, usually getting a - “pa’ que?, for what?” in response. After his abuelo passed away, Sami found an extraordinary collection of photographs reaching back to the 1940’s. For years, Sami’s grandfather stood quietly behind a camera capturing the likeness and stories of Puerto Ricans at home and abroad. What he couldn’t communicate in words, he captured on film. Lives memorialized in black and white and sepia tones. Like his abuelo, Sami heard the world speaking to him and saw art as a chance to join the conversation--to say something back.
In more ways than one, Sami’s art brings to light those who usually go unseen. But finding his voice was a journey of its own. In the late 90’s, fresh out of college, Sami started his career as an educator teaching high school. Wanting to connect with his students and teach them something he was passionate about, Sami decided to bring poetry into the classroom. Thankfully, his students were willing to jump in, but on one condition, if they had to write, he would have to write with them. Sami accepted their terms and credits his students with pushing him to put words on paper. The first time Sami publicly read his poetry, his students were his audience. That initial reading in an everyday classroom was the beginning of Sami sharing his poetry with hundreds of people everywhere from DC to Madrid.
Today, Sami speaks with both confidence and humility when discussing his art. While he continues to honor the keepsakes and photographs his abuelo left behind, he also finds inspiration in the world around him. For Sami, life is one big conversation. From sculptures, to paintings, to poetry, each work of art is a response to his life experiences and encounters. His art not only captures our attention, but compels us to join the conversation.
Take a deeper dive into Sami Miranda's art and poetry here.
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