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Semantics Could Keep Poets Efforts Out of Record Books
Credit:  Wikipedia Commons

In the late morning hours of Wednesday, April 7th, the last words of 120 hours of continuous poetry, known as the “Poetry Filibuster” were uttered. With them ended a most valiant attempt to set the World's Record for Longest Continuous Poetry Reading—which organizers insist they obliterated. Yet even before the first word was spoken or the last book of poetry opened, they knew there would be a battle for their efforts to be recognized as such.

Organizers must now complete an exhaustive application process of proving and pleading their case to the gatekeepers of such statistics; the Guinness Book of World Records. Guinness may or may not choose not to recognize the feat. Why, you may ask? Semantics, it seems may keep the event from claiming its “official” place in poetry history.

According to a spokesperson from Guinness, “In our records for reading aloud, we do not distinguish between prose and poetry due to the similarity of the activity involved in reading them to an audience,” said Sara Wilcox, P.R and Marketing Assistant said in an email statement to KCTribune.com.

“The current record is as follows: Longest marathon reading aloud by a team,” said the email. “The longest marathon reading aloud by a team is 240 hr 15 min 27 sec…” by a team of students from Florida who repeatedly read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for ten days in November of 2009.

Organizer and co-owner of Prospero’s Books, Will Leathem, said they found out two weeks before the folks at Guinness might not accept their claim. This news came after almost a year of planning by the organizers and discussions with the record keeping organization.

“We have been in a long running discussion about whether or not they will recognize a difference between a poetry reading and the reading of an academic work,” said Leathem, in an interview. “We are going to give them everything they asked for and let them make the decision. Whether they’ll accept it or not, we are going to argue for it.”

Leathem believes a new category needs to be added to include their efforts, because “they do distinguish between eating Hot Dogs and Fish, or Hot Dogs and Vegetables”.

According to Leathem, National Public Radio recognized the previous record for Longest Poetry reading as being set in 1978 by a group of 50 poets from Cincinnati, Ohio who performed for 56 hours and 25 minutes. No matter what the outcome of Guinness’ decision on their attempt, “we still had the longest poetry reading”.

The Poetry Filibuster brought poets from around the area and beyond to the corner store on West 39th Street, to recite, read, recant, rant and recall their original works or perform classic poems from the Renassance to the Beat Generation.

The event was sponsored by the bookstore, Write the Future, Metaphor Media and Spartan Press, and attracted noted scribes like Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet, Simon Pettet, past Poet Laureate of Kansas, Denise Low and Marc Smith, recognized as the founder of “slam poetry” genre.

“It went by like a blur,” said Tom Wayne, co-owner of Prospero’s of the event. “There were never less than 4 or 5 people and there was always a reader.”

“Between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m., it got really weird,” added Wayne, who described some moments as “weird cosmic spontaneity”, including a girl who read poetry in a giant, pink bunny outfit, one poet who recited verse while doing tai-chi and two girls who  simulated sex.

Prospero’s Books has served Kansas Citians for more than a decade and is infamous for its publicity-making events. Most notably, it gained national attention for its “Book Burnings” where unwanted books were set ablaze, in hopes of inspiring books lovers to save them.

Although the bookstore also provided stacks of poetry books for recitation, Wayne estimates the event featured “80 to 90 percent” original works of poetry from more than 250 readers with about 1,000 spectators, who came and went over the course of five days and nights of poetry.

According to Wayne, the “Poetry Filibuster” a.k.a. the “Posey Rodeo” was fully videotaped and documented with proceeds going to help produce a best of DVD and a book of poetry to be released sometime in the future. That is of course, after they finish the extensive submission process to Guinness.

In related news, the “Poetry Pit”, a non-competitive night of poetry reading where local poets can share their works in a congenial atmosphere, will begin anew on the fourth Sunday of every month at the bookstore.

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