We note the passing of Bud Kenny, founder of the long-tenured Wednesday Night Poetry open mic sessions in Hot Springs. Known for donning a top hat and encouraging poets at all skill levels to step in front of the microphone and to “read slower,” Kenny’s role was as the patriarch of Central Arkansas poetry and as mentor to up-and-coming poets in the area.
Here’s an excerpt from Julia Thomas’ piece for the Arkansas Times on the occasion of WNP’s 30th anniversary in February:
Wednesday Night Poetry celebrated its 30th anniversary on Feb. 6, commemorating 1,567 consecutive Wednesdays of weekly poetry readings since it began as the first recurring art event in Hot Springs on Feb. 1, 1989. Now on its 14th venue with a total accumulated number of hosts that none of its original attendees can keep track of, the event also marked the passing of the torch to Coggin as host and recognized its longtime members and illustrious past.
Even more impressive than its longevity, WNP is an eclectic, welcoming community made up of attendees and voices from all walks of life. Attendance has waxed and waned over time, but WNP consistently draws a crowd of at least 20 and more typically 40 or 50. On its 30th birthday, the event brought in close to 100 throughout the night.
Sixteen people signed up to read at the beginning of the night and, by its close, many more had added their names to the mix. Individuals can sign up to perform any original or previously published poem, or even lyrics with live music during one of two 30 minute time slots, bookending the featured poet, Bud Kenny, the “patriarch of WNP” and host since 2015, dressed in a top hat, suit and coattails that he dons for special occasions. …
Originally, WNP began as a conversation over dinner in 1988 between Kenny and an artist named Benini, who had visions for a thriving art community in Hot Springs.
Kenny, who had picked up poetry while walking across the Northern states in the 1970s, thought it was a compelling idea but didn’t envision that it would last more than a few months. Giancarlo’s Grotto restaurant in the lower level of Spencer’s corner, now the Steinhaus Keller, was offered up as the first venue for WNP and quickly became a hit with 200 people attending its raucous first reading.
Kenny believes it’s stood the test of time because of the consistent community effort to keep it going and the opportunity it allows people to express themselves.
“It’s one thing to pour onto a page of paper, but [poetry] doesn’t come to full fruition until you share it with others,” Kenny said. “People listen, and that’s what it’s all about.”