For the 1,775th time in a row, a group of dedicated poets and poetry fans met in downtown Hot Springs on Wednesday, Feb. 1, celebrating the 34th anniversary since Wednesday Night Poetry began on Feb. 1, 1989.
Braving the wintry weather, a small group of die-hards arrived at Kollective Coffee & Tea, including Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe, who read a proclamation stating that day was Wednesday Night Poetry Day and host Kai Coggin has been named the first Poet Laureate of Hot Springs.
According to the proclamation, the title of Poet Laureate bestowed to Coggin comes "with the aim of bringing poetry to the people of Hot Springs by writing about and showcasing our beautiful city."
"I'm really, really thankful and I'm honored to hold that position," Coggin said. "And to serve the city of Hot Springs, to bring more poetry to the people here and to continue teaching thousands of children here in Central Arkansas."
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A poet laureate is a designated representative of a city, state or country in the field of poetry. They bring poetry to their respective communities by holding events and readings. On top of her new title and her WNP hosting responsibilities, Coggin is also an author and teaching artist, among other things.
"Not many people are exposed to poetry unless they come to a poetry reading like this one," Coggin said.
She said she has her sights set on reaching those in Hot Springs who have not yet encountered the art form by leaving poems at various sites and landmarks around the national park and local trails, doing readings with kids and around the city as well as other projects.
In a literal hat tip to her predecessor, Coggin adorned a top hat, like WNP founder Bud Kenny used to wear on special occasions, while she read the proclamation to a crowd last Wednesday.
"Wednesday Night Poetry's mission is to have a place for poets, songwriters and storytellers to share their art, which led to 14 different venues hosting the event in downtown Hot Springs," stated the proclamation, which was endorsed by the Hot Springs Board of Directors.
"Over the past 34 years, and despite the pandemic, Wednesday Night Poetry has remained a beacon of love and community, not just for Hot Springs and Arkansas poets, but for more than 4,000 poets all around the world," it read.
After a 1988 discussion between soon-to-be WNP founder Kenny and artist Benini, the weekly forum was born in John Carlo's Grotto Restaurant on the lower level of Spencer's Corner with over 200 people in attendance.
"Hot Springs remains a part of the global poetry consciousness and conversation," reads the proclamation.
Since Kenny's vision has come to life, three others (including Coggin) have kept the weekly ritual alive, ensuring that WNP holds on to the title of longest uninterrupted weekly open-mic poetry meeting in the nation. Having been hosted in 14 locations through its 34 years, the event has been held at Kollective Coffee & Tea for 11 years now.
There's one story of a couple walking to the venue during a terrible winter storm to read a poem in front of the building just to be able to say that the event has never been interrupted.
Shortly after taking the torch in 2019, Coggin was forced to take WNP virtual during the pandemic. As a result, however, thousands of poets and viewers from around the world were able to participate in the series even after the group returned to in-person meetings at the end of 2021.
"I plan to keep that torch of poetry on fire and lit for as long as I can," she said.
Wednesday Night Poetry is hosted at Kollective Coffee & Tea, located 110 Central Ave., each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.