Going long on the shortest day
Rockland — When the doors of Rockland Public Library open on the day of the winter solstice, Rockland Poet Laureate Carol Willette Bachofner will have a book in hand, ready to start reading poetry aloud as she crosses the threshold. If all goes according to plan Friday, Dec. 21 — and the world does not end — she will still be reading as she leaves at 5 p.m.
“I won’t stop until they lock the door and they escort me out,” she said a week before, sitting before the fireplace in the library’s reading room.
“This is a favorite spot for me,” she said, pulling volumes out of a canvas tote bag. “I love this library, it has such personality.”
The force of Bachofner’s personality, and her passion for poetry, will be needed to get through eight hours on non-stop reading. By closing time, Bachofner hopes to have set a world record for poetry read aloud continuously in a public space by a poet. If she has to cut things a little short, well, the effort will still pay off as there is no record as yet.
Since being named to the city’s Poet Laureate post in April, Bachofner has held some kind of event every month to put poetry into people’s hands and promote it as a vital part of life. The fall’s hyper-politicized climate provided the spark that grew into her record-setting attempt.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Congress and about filibustering. What if there were a poetry filibuster? I mean, they read cookbooks and phone books — I’m thinking of sending them one of my poetry books to read,” she said.
Her own poems will be among those read Friday, along with work given to her by fellow poets for the day and a big pile of favorite volumes. She said she thinks she might start with Shakespeare’s sonnets. Poems will come from the city schools as well, with which Bachofner has been working this year.
“Tom Forti, the Oceanside principal, is giving me a book of poems his mother’s just published to read, and I hope to see principals, teachers and students during the course of the day,” she said.
To qualify the reading for the Guinness record, a log will be kept with Bachofner signing in and out, verified by library staff. She has a support team of local poets who have agreed to spell her for bathroom breaks and lunch. As for the latter, Bachofner is hoping someone will bring her a lobster roll. She also is letting it be known that a half-caf latte with an inch of foam from Rock City “and one of their Winter Solstice Cakes” would be a wonderful way to support the world record drive.
“Oh, there will be pathetic posters around town, begging for participation,” she said.
Bachofner said she expects her reading aloud in the library will come as a surprise to some of its patrons. She will spend the day in front of the large fireplace, a cozy spot, and plans to wear her sparkly shoes and maybe a few changes of hats. She will read in ways both conventional — from books and papers — and not.
“I’ll be using my iPad with the hot pink cover,” she said.
The spirit will be light, as counterpoint to the relative darkness of the day, but Bachofner’s poetry event has serious purpose.
“I think it’s a good way to raise awareness that poetry is not something that just happens once in awhile … whether it’s eight hours or 10 minutes of a day, it can be a part of everyone’s life,” she said.
In an effort to support the idea of poetry being a part of every day, Bachofner had a poem-a-day challenge going in November on Facebook, and the response was strong enough she has continued it into December and is thinking about a year of the discipline.
“What do you write about when you write them every day? As a poetry teacher, I’ve come up with prompts that are helpful,” she said.
People may come up to the poet laureate Friday with poems to be read, as long as they are G-rated.
“This is a public space and there will be children around,” Bachofner said.
Those criteria may be stretched come February, when Bachofner hopes to host and evening of lovers reading their love poems to their beloveds at an event that may be held at Ripples. She is not sure about January’s event yet, but has been inspired by the deeds of derring-do of an Iowa City “poetry bandit.”
First things first, however; there is a record to be set. Bachofner is calling the Guinness record push a half-marathon as she is hoping to do a 12-hour reading on the summer solstice. Either way, she is not too concerned about the vocal challenge.
"I raised six kids! Women use more words in a day than men, statistically. So I think I’m uniquely qualified by gender,” she said.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.