Bards By the Bay Brings Poetry to Bayfront Park

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Event coordinators Bubba Henson and Tanya Young (left) sharing a laugh with a participant during a poetry discussion. Photo by Eliana Burns.

Bards By the Bay has their finger pressed against the temple of Sarasota’s pulsing poetry scene. Every second and fourth Thursday you can find local poets and “professional listeners” dwelling by the bay’s edge in Bayfront Park. In the summer of last year, Frank “Bubba” Henson and Tanya Young began Bards By the Bay. As poets themselves, they craved to build a community that seeped the same undeniable passion.

“Sarasota has a really, sort of, deep poetic tradition of poetry,” says Henson. “What we try to do is to invite everyone, whether you’re a new writer or whether you’re a seasoned writer.”

All good things begin with music, and Bards By the Bay is no exception. Dwelling under the arms of a Banyan tree, local songwriter and musician, Rick Mantis, opened the last session with a heartfelt original song, accompanied by his acoustic guitar. Following Mantis, a portable microphone was passed like a torch around a campfire, prompting prose and poetry out of all who held it.

“What we do at Bards is different,” says Henson, “and you’ll see this, we try to do just good life-talk. Whereas someone may read a poem at another event, they’ll read their poem and maybe not talk about it. Here, they read a poem and then the group will ask questions about it, and the person might talk about it.”

Henson elaborates, considering how Bards by the Bay differs from other poetry groups. “Since I moderate, sometimes I won’t even read a poem, I’ll just talk about what’s on my mind as it relates to poetry or something like that.” Henson mentions what he calls, “professional listeners- people who don’t read poetry yet enjoy the open dialogue. “It’s real talk, about real issues. Not even necessarily about politics or any of that kind of stuff, but more of what life is really about. There’s a broad range of people with experience here, both academic and literary, so when someone shares, our first response is to always be encouraging.”

“Bards By the Bay is so rewarding. See, the nice thing about these local poetry groups, you tend to discuss in between. Sometimes Bubba wants us to read something twice to get the whole impact," says long-time poet Lois Betterton. “Tanya is an extraordinarily talented writer, she’s an animated reader, she has characters that she constantly brings up in her poetry—you get to know her through her characters, and Bubba is just a genius.” 

Pictured: Event coordinators Bubba Henson and Tanya Young (left) sharing a laugh with a participant during a poetry discussion. Photo by Eliana Burns.

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