The Blueberry Patch is well-known in the Bay area as an artists’ enclave, a place to listen to great local music and an overall cool place to hang out. But The Patch, as it is referred to by those who frequent the venue, is increasingly becoming a local hub for the literary arts, thanks to the Ink Tank Presents Literary Afternoons hosted the first Sunday of every month.
At the most recent Literary Afternoon on February 12, the focus was on the prose, poetry and song lyrics of legendary artist Leonard Cohen, who passed away in 2016. Those who attended were treated to a history of Cohen’s life and a sampling of his works, both spoken and sung by volunteers Ian O’Hara, Martha Muzzey, Rob McCabe, Vincent Spina and others.
“It’s all about promoting literature and keeping the literary arts alive in Gulfport and surrounding areas,” says Bob Feckner, a volunteer at the Blueberry Patch. “We are excited that literature is part of our artistic mix.”
Those involved in the literary events at The Patch are also excited that it won the 2016 Creative Loafing Best of the Bay Readers Pick for Best Open Mic Night (Poetry).
“The Literary Afternoons started out small about four years ago,” says Ian O’Hara, who handles the biographical aspect of featured authors. “We had five people who saw the event in a Gabber ad, sitting around a table on a December afternoon discussing journalist Christopher Hitchens.”
At that time, O’Hara, Muzzey and the late Peter Duffy brainstormed about which authors to showcase. Duffy preferred more obscure authors such as Richard Brautigan and Beat Movement writers. After Duffy passed away in 2014, the Literary Afternoons began to focus on more well-known authors.
“We were already moving in that direction, and also including an occasional series,” says O’Hara. “But the events were still not held every month.”
“We also wanted to feature authors who were connected to the area in some way,” says Muzzey, citing Jack Kerouac, who once lived in St. Petersburg, as an example.
Since then, the Literary Afternoon has become a staple featuring such diverse authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anne Rice, British and American Romantics plus open mics with readings by local poets and writers. In keeping with tradition, the December event always features a journalist. Since the second meeting, the event is filmed each month by Kurt Thompson and uploaded to the Blueberry Patch website at blueberrypatch.org.
Future plans include a library as well as more open mics and featured authors.
“It will be our own version of the little free libraries, with people taking a book and donating a book,” says Muzzey.
Upcoming events include an open mic on March 5 featuring local writers and Gulfport’s 2017 Poet Laureate Sam Henderson. Another open mic is planned for April 5 in honor of National Poetry Month. Featured authors for 2017 will include John Steinbeck, Bob Dylan and an as yet undetermined Florida author.
To find out more, go to Ink Tank at the Blueberry Patch on Facebook.