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This article is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

Poetry Reading and Patronage Chris McCully

'Hello. My name's Chris, and I... I'm a... I once played Katisha in The Mikado.' There, I've said it, and since it will take me about a thousand words to recover from the neural blush occasioned by this confession, I'll only say here that Katisha, in her surprising new male persona, has a bearing on this piece. But her time isn't yet. She must first sit out most of Act I, which is occupied by The Poetry Reading.

It's a hush not quite to be described as breathless. In a small room somewhere in Bradford, Ballater, San Francisco or Fukuoka (which you shouldn't pronounce as it looks) a handful of chairs are tenanted by the earnest, the impossible, the eager or the simply lost. On a good evening there will also be the presence of a stray cat. Old bits of egg, yesterday's porridge, halitosis and stray teeth are much in evidence. Someone has lost her glasses. Another hiccoughs into a waste-paper-basket. Another pokes you in the chest and asks why you don't live in a garret. And somewhere in the third row, sitting slightly off-centre, there's the apparently sane body in sensible shoes - she reminds you of one of your colleagues - who is bound to ask at some point why you don't write in quantitative hexameters. Since you can't even say 'quantitative hexameters', this is going to be a problem.

It's not the only one. There's the podium (the 'p' is silent); ...


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