Monday, 1 August 2011

From the Tattered Archive

As well as photographs, I often cut out poems I like from magazines - usually the New Yorker. Looking through the folder I keep them in this morning, I found this one by a poet called Stephen Dunn, from August 24, 2009. I like poems and stories about clowns, because I find them so mysterious - although meant to be comic figures, they embody melancholy for me.

If a Clown

If a clown came out of the woods,
a standard-looking clown with oversized
polka-dot clothes, floppy shoes,
a red, bulbous nose, and you saw him
on the edge of your property,
there'd be nothing funny about that,
would there? A bear might be preferable,
especially if black and berry-driven.
And if this clown began waving his hands
with those big white gloves
that clowns wear, and you realized
he wanted your attention, had something
apparently urgent to tell you,
would you pivot and run frrom him,
or stay put, as my friend did, who seemed
to understand here was a clown
who didn't know where he was,
a clown without a context?
What could be sadder, my friend thought,
than a clown in need of a context?
If then the clown said to you
that he was on his way to a kid's
birthday party, his car had broken down,
and he needed a ride, would you give
him one? Or would the connection
between the comic and the appalling,
as it pertained to clowns, be suddenly so clear
that you'd be paralyzed by it?
And if you were the clown, and my friend
hesitated, as he did, would you make
a sad face, and with an enormous finger
wipe away an imaginary tear? How far
would you trust your art? I can tell you
it worked. Most of the guests had gone
when my friend and the clown drove up,
and the family was angry. But the clown
twisted a balloon into the shape of a bird
and gave it to the kid, who smiled,
let it rise to the ceiling. If you were the kid,
the birthday boy, what from then on
would be your relationship with disappointment?
With joy? Whom would you blame or extoll?


  1. How cool. Stephen is a fellow from my area of New Jersey. I had some poetry workshops with him. Great writer, great teacher. I like his work a lot. (Ain't I just the most insufferable name-dropper, lately?)

  2. That's the only poem of his I've come across. I'm glad he wasn't a one-hit wonder.

  3. He pops up in quite a few anthologies (I used to teach a poem of his to an advanced English class from an "AP" text) but, like most poets today, he makes his living in the classroom.

  4. Trying to teach poetry writing or teaching analysis?

  5. I was teaching analysis; he teaches writing and lit. at a college in NJ -- at least, he did, until recently.