Wednesday Night Poetry has yet to miss a night of gathering since its start on Feb. 1, 1989, and despite social distancing and self-quarantining COVID-19 concerns have imposed on the community, the event was able to see its 1,625th Wednesday through with a virtual gathering.
"At this time of uncertainty our town and, basically everyone in America, needs something to hold on to, something to believe in, something that's normal; a little piece of what happens all the time, some kind of structure," WNP host Kai Coggin said. "(WNP) has never missed a single week in 1,625 weeks and although this is completely new territory for us to navigate, we're going to try our best to still hold our open mic and be a light in the community during this dark and uncertain time."
Usually held inside Kollective Coffee+Tea, Wednesday's WNP meeting was held virtually on Facebook, with a select few members volunteering to read a poem outside of the closed coffee shop.
Gin Hartnett, widow of WNP founder Bud Kenny, was one of two representatives who volunteered to recite a poem outside of the usual venue. She recited her poem "Bass Motive," a piece she had written for Kenny right before he died last October, that she never got to share with him. WNP member Roxy Rose volunteered to accompany Hartnett to video the reciting of her poem to add to the collection of other poets participating in the virtual gathering.
Upon arriving, Hartnett and Rose were met by three other WNP members who were unaware of the virtual gathering but made an appearance in fear the event's 1,625 streak would be ended due to COVID-19 concerns.
"(WNP) is a very important part of my life, of our lives, and we come every Wednesday night," WNP member Howard Lee Kilby said. "I used to go to church on Wednesday nights, and now I go to Wednesday Night Poetry; it's a very similar experience, it's a religious experience."
"And since 1981, there has never been an interruption; with snow, power outages, flooding -- there's never been an interruption," WNP member William Maxwell said. "We came to keep it going. ... Nothing human lasts very long, we all die, but some tradition that lasts that long, you need to preserve it."
WNP member Shaman Rickie also accompanied Kilby and Maxwell, who each recited an original poem, to provide a drum chant.
Coggin said they will continue to hold virtual WNP gatherings in the weeks to come, but having volunteers recite a poem outside of Kollective for physical representation will depend on how severe COVID-19 concerns grow.
"I definitely want to be responsible and not put anybody in danger and so if it gets weirder or worse after this week, which I'm afraid it might, we're just going to be doing a virtual open mic. ... We're all just doing our best," Coggin said. "In times of darkness, humanity turns to the poets and to the artists and to the musicians for clarity and for guidance and just by coming together, I think that we're going to be able to do that and sharing it on a global platform like Facebook, perhaps it can give somebody else a little hope and maybe won't feel so alone during this time of isolation and social distancing."
With the virtual WNP gathering, she noted, there is a larger variety of people than usual who can be a part of it. Participating poets on Wednesday ranged from 9 years old to 85 years old, allowing some who attended the first WNP gathering in 1989 to participate, Coggin said.
"People from Little Rock and Fayetteville and all over who are part of our family that might not be able to come in body every week -- they jumped to be a part of this," she said. "We all need to find the beauty during this time and find the hope in community and reach out and feel like we're still a part of something even though we're all so separated right now in our homes -- or we should be."
Coggin said the Hot Springs community has continued to "carry the flame of the art" in poetry.
"I'm really proud to be a part of it and be able to walk us through this uncertain time, and I feel like Bud is with me, kind of guiding me through also and nudging me," she said. "I definitely don't feel alone in this decision and we're all kind of coming together to see how it goes. People need some kind of outlet and some kind of sense that everything is not all scary ... (The poets are) pretty hopeful and honest and raw, just like they are every week."
WNP's virtual gathering can be viewed on its Facebook Page: Wednesday Night Poetry.
Coggin said she likes the image of people turning to poets, artists and musicians during "dark times."
"Everyone is sharing songs and resources and poems; things that are kind of holding us all up as we go into this collective uncertainty," she said. "There's a lot of fear out there, and I'm scared about what's going to be happening over the next weeks and months. I'm going to do what I can to stand as a light in our community and in our world and just keep doing that as long as we can.
Local on 03/20/2020