‘Live Bard’ Takes Classic Verse to the Streets
Peter Thomas is bringing poetry to the people.
Photo by Jacqueline Ward
Peter Thomas recites “Casey at the Bat” along with Shakespeare verses.
Peter Thomas grew up with poetry. He reads it, writes it and recites it.
Assuming the costume and character of a medieval storyteller, Thomas also performs.
He is “The Live Bard.” His show, refined over the last 13 years: “Poetry For People Who Hate Poetry.”
Ryan and Amanda Kennedy of Destin are converts. Between them, they have attended seven of the Live Bard’s performances.
“I most enjoyed learning that there are poems and parts of poetry out there that I do enjoy,” Ryan said. “Generally, I would consider myself … not a fan. But every experience has been a great time, as well as a learning experience.” Amanda agreed.
“Having a bachelor’s in English, I thought I knew poetry well enough,” she said. “I read the classics. But the Live Bard taught me how poetry is intended to be enjoyed. He is very passionate about poetry and teaches you through his performances.”
As intended, poetry moves people.
“I have both laughed and cried at the performances,” Amanda said. “I have had many friends join me at the readings that go into the performance a little apprehensively because of their prior experiences with poetry, but they leave with a changed mind.”
Thomas was born in Minnesota to the Baby Boomer generation. He was adopted and reared as an only child. Poetry was present from the beginning, including a beloved anthology of poetry that his parents read from and handed down to him.
A great-uncle, Dale Coates, introduced him to the works of Robert W. Service when Coates recited “The Cremation of Sam McGee” for more than 100 relatives at a reunion.
Thomas often includes that poem by the “Bard of the Yukon” in his performances.
Looking for adventures he could not encounter at home, Thomas enlisted in the U.S. Army as a teenager and served in Vietnam, a life-altering experience that makes appearances in his poems.
His performance persona did not start coming together until he was around 40 years old. He considered writing a book of poetry, then an autobiography. Finally, he had another idea, one aimed at connecting with audiences.
“They are interested in old-fashioned, storytelling, narrative verse,” Thomas recalled, “and I said that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to adopt the persona of a storyteller of the medieval ages and earlier who would travel around and be the man on the street. I wanted to be the poet for people who don’t like poetry.”
Searching for places to perform, the Live Bard found that arts festivals suited his style.
The crowds are slow moving and, presented with something dramatic, can be tempted to tarry. In recent years, he has performed at many other locations where people gather, such as a Pensacola bookstore, Liza Jackson Park in Fort Walton Beach and Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach.
Thomas recites his own verses along with the classics.
“I do short things and long narrative things, like my own ode to a senior drill instructor,” he said. “My material ranges from the frivolous to the philosophical, from Shakespeare to Robert Service, from Charles Baudelaire to Charles Bukowski.
One of my favorite 19th-century narrative poets is George R. Sims.” Thomas admires Sims as a “social commentator” and aspires to be one himself.
Other poems on the bill for people who usually don’t like poetry include “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer and “Danny Deever,” one of Rudyard Kipling’s “Barrack Room Ballads.”
Thomas said he spends hundreds of hours preparing costumes and material for performances as he brings poetry to life as the Live Bard.
“It’s a powerful aphrodisiac,” he said with a trademark wry grin, “and I hope to do more of it.”