Mixed metaphors at a reading

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After two introductions, the poet at last stands at the podium. The literati mostly listen, sometimes whisper, while others trace illuminati in the dust of the marble windowsills. His voice echoes down the long hall of the National Library, each phrase runs downhill, poetry is partially music after all, so that much I get out of it. But there are other distractions; like in a film of a ghost story the whispers rise behind me, a persistent sibilant accompaniment that dies down at the end of each line and rises again along with the reader. The whispers are all consonants, and hint at meaning, but I understand nothing.

But quickly as the poet is finished, and another man takes his place, and another and another, now the whispers do not desist at each pause, but impatiently gain on the speakers like bad consciences, hissing harpies. I discover that these are not poets who speak now, but critics, barely hearing the poet’s words yet they have cracked open the new spines and now pass judgement on the book. And yet it seems the audience in turn passes judgement on the critics, whose halting speeches are undermined with this constant whispering. And suddenly, as if someone has thrown a handful of bread for a flock of sparrows now darting out from their hiding places in the rafters: the cellphones all begin to ring and beep at once, squabbling over the last crumbs of restraint and silence. To speak is not to hear, still the speaker continues, waving his hand in front of his mouth, drawing out the wool of his words, he chops at the air, and has already walked the ten paces to his chair and is sitting down before they sense the absence and begin to clap.

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