The Death of a Clown, Tom Bland
Bad Betty Press, 2016 £6.00
Bring on the (consistent) clowns
The thing that strikes me most about this pamphlet is its consistency of tone and subject matter. This is perhaps because (as explained by the acknowledgements) some of the work was written and performed as part of a Contemporary Performance Practices MA. It’s not quite a single story or play, I don’t think, but the individual poems build and circle round a clearly identifiable set of imagery and themes.
Right from the first page we have ‘my old boss / a sexologist who snorted coke’ (in ‘You reminded me’). Sexuality features again in ‘The clown teacher’ and ‘Once a year’ (‘Was this orgasm? Was I even hard?’).
You can’t miss the sexual focus in ‘Amy told me’ (‘no one can make / you come like yourself’). The same is true in ‘Michelle called pain’ (‘When I came I was still hard, but I had to squeeze her hands free’); and it’s central in ‘In Fuz Sxx’ (too many thematic links to quote — it’s set in a sex shop).
Even in ‘I was lying’, the clowns are ‘leaping with phallic velocity’. And as you’d expect from the title, this is not the only reference to clowns. They feature in four of the twelve poems. There’s coke in three (and speed and ketamine in two others). Therapists in two. The speaker’s boss, ‘Dr Zoe Graham’ makes an appearance in two poems (could she also be the old boss, the ‘sexologist’ of the first poem?). The Guardian and The Satanic Bible feature twice each. There are serial killers in no fewer than four poems, including two featuring a serial killer clown and one mention of ‘axe-wielding satanic / clowns on YouTube’. The colour red is also recurrent and important, from Tracey-Emin neon to blood on (of course) clown noses.
The blurb on the publisher’s website says the pamphlet is ‘an audacious and essential take on authenticity, alienation and sexuality that simultaneously estranges itself from and relates to its audience.’ Certainly it is a performance, larger than life and certainly strange. The insistent thematic focus may lack subtlety, but to be fair, subtlety is not what it’s aiming for.
Perhaps one of the most characteristic phrases from ‘Michelle called pain’ will give a flavour of the style of the pamphlet as a whole, as well as pin-pointing several of its central features:
like when we did such bad coke
our noses bled into kisses’