I am a clown and a fool.
As a Clown Poet I love bringing the qualities of improvisation, playfulness, willingness to fail and spontaneity to poetry – attending performances, courses and events and using my embodied experience, the improvised words of performers, verbatim quotes from audience members, material created in collaboration with attendees, and feedback from participants to create instant poems that can be shared at the end of the day.
Wise woman Franki Anderson was my original fool teacher - I attended a 5-Day School for Fools at Fooltime with her back in the 1980s.
I also spent a lot of time with circus folk and Fooltime people back then, learning to juggle and unicycle and facepaint.
I re-found fooling and Franki when I started working with Holly Stoppit and attended various clowning and fooling workshops with her. Holly has studied with Franki for many years.
Here are some of the courses I've either attended or assisted on with Holly:
- Introduction to clowning weekend
- Fool School 5-days
- Clown intensive 5-days
- Deep Clown 5-days
- Clown to Performance 10-weeks
- Comic Storytelling 5-days
- Assembling Your Inner Cast advanced fooling 5-days
- Fool to Performance 6-weeks
- April Fools weekend/3 days/performance
- Fools Retreat 5-days
- Going Feral day wth Mel McCree
- Utility Room 6-weeks with Amy Rose
- Clown Workouts online
- Mindful Play 6 weeks
- Inner Voice, Outer Voice weekend
I am Holly Stoppit’s poet-in-residence. Holly is a facilitator, performance skills teacher, theatre director and dramatherapist, specialising in live, interactive, improvised and devised performance. At the heart of all of Holly’s work is a desire to promote creative discovery and connection through play.
In my role as her radministrator, Holly has supported and nurtured the creative part of me. As CPD, in 2019 she paid for me to attend a 5-day poetry retreat at renowned creative writing organisation Arvon. I spent a week at the spectacular Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, formerly the home of poet Ted Hughes, and frequented by a cat named Ted. The tutors and fellow students massively inspired me to further delve into the possibilities of poetry.
Following the retreat I became Holly’s poet-in-residence. I have written live poetry during clown and fool performances and poems reflecting on Holly's courses and workshops I have attended or assisted on.
As part of Holly's 10-week Clown to Performance course in 2017 we each had a 5-minute slot to perform at the Wardrobe Theatre. The performance was improvised but in preparation we were charged with finding an inner clown part of ourselves and a game the clown wanted to play with the audience. Inspired by a trip to Cornwall and a meeting with a lighthouse, I found my Lighthouse clown who's mission is to make friends and communicate with them.
(image credit Tom Farrant)
At first the lighthouse's only language was Foghorn, but later they discovered their voice as a poet and wrote this poem.
Lighthouse I like being a lighthouse because I get to turnaround slowly in a circle (too fast and I might get dizzy) I get to have a torch I get to explore rock pools I get to paddle in my wellies I get to sea forage for barnacles and ocean weed I get to see gulls swoop and soar and screech dolphins dive, whales sing and play I get to feel the power of the storm buffeted by the gales the surge and fury of the waves the force of the rips and eddies watch the moon guide the neap tide I am elevated here, on rocky outcrops where everyone can see I stand out in the crowd different from everything else around me people make trips to see me especially and write stories and songs and have all sorts of billowy blustery thoughts which may or may not be true which may or may not really matter I get to shout my head off - really loud - WAH! and people say ‘Oh! Is that a foghorn?’ they’re not pissed off when I wail they think my voice eerie, mournful, romantic, atmospheric it reminds people that, way out here in the wilds, someone cares, someone is looking out for them their lives are important to someone all human lives are I am a symbol of optimism when the way is tricky a life buoy of hope in treacherous conditions casting rays out into the dark and briny deep I guide people, show them the way shine a light on safe passage I stand here proud to be me with my torch and my wellies my exceptional way of being and my singularly unique voice… Oh! I see we are all lighthouse here!
Clown Congress was an event held in Bristol and online in October 2023, with the theme: Clowns & Identity: Exploring Difference in Clowning.
Around 50 clowns from Bristol, UK and internationally gathered for 3 days of workshops, discussions and big ideas. I attended as the congress Poet-in-Residence, creating poems from participant comments, collaborative sessions and my thoughts and feelings as a poet in the space.
Participants told me that my poems were "a very helpful way to help remember and digest what had gone on during the days."
Ironically, two of the poems I made during the congress have been lost - clown ephemera - a lesson in letting go and playing the flop. They were really good ones too! I rescued a snippet from one of them which you'll see below, and I have notes for the other one but I'll never be able to make it again as good as it was in the moment...
Big thanks to Hatty Ashton for the photos.
When I’m with the unknown – a snippet of a lost poem Incorporating post-it comments from participants at one of Holly Stoppit's Creative Clarity sessions. The actual poem from the day has been lost - clown ephemera! when I’m with the unknown I feel flutters through my middle I dissolve, I reform I fizz dissolve and fizz forget that the ground is there sometimes I speak my truth
Identity Collaborative poem exploring identity created during an open space session I come from a dirty town I didn’t feel I belonged in Women who stood on mountains and sang into the clouds Their exposed roots reaching into its edges I sit cross-legged, listening well to A spiritual goddess, singing in tongues without care Whose breath cleared the clouds so the sun shone Who cackles and mixes her cauldron well A view from the top of men with ropes clambering up A people of mental health mish mash A father who was sent away to school Suicidal grandfather and energetic aunts Parents who did not hug I want to say I don’t understand I want to say you are not here but I am I want to say I feel lost so much of the time I’ll ask the wise woman in a caravan who looks out to the sea With the sea swimming, shifting shape creatures who growl and scream and shout My brother and his friends swim in the candlelight I come from the north, the hills and the moors A black ford focus with one door that doesn’t open A house on the corner of the street with a pub at the top A dirty town I didn’t feel I belonged in
What happens when I bring my needs into the play? Incorporating post-it comments from participants at one of Holly Stoppit's Creative Clarity sessions. When I ask for my needs to be met in play it’s selfish and terrifying serious and shameful difficult, uncomfortable I feel like I will cry. What if my needs do not get met what if I get hurt or lose my head? In the asking is vulnerability playful neediness, needy playfulness like a jellyfish playing an accordion it touches many things frustration, validation, relaxation expression, expulsion, explosion freedom, love, connection comfort and refreshment trust, joy and reflection If my needs are met in play we touch bellies, which is fun we look in the mirror make ugly faces, stick out our tongues I become a two-headed snake – enabled “to play or not to play” I play and they receive I get the chance to meet their needs I get a glimpse into the others’ worlds I feel included, I feel held * (poem from a player) I didn’t know what I needed then I looked and it was there in the soup of group dynamics or underneath my chair how quiet and shy she is but she is there * When my needs are met in play with honesty and value I feel healthily congruent feeling everything more witnessed and witnessing empowered and empowering growing like life itself when my needs are met in play I find peace and what I didn’t know I needed - it’s wonderful - great things When I bring my needs into the play I really get to play I am satisfied and my needs are met
Sunday 29 October @FridayIsPoetsDay we came from somewhere and come together feeling things realistic with this precious gift this circle with the needs and numbness the flight, the fright, the freeze the yes, the no the how do we do this? I’ve been collecting insights moments with people the comfort principles and I want to tell you I am doing OK
Monday 30 October @FridayIsPoetsDay whistling through pen tops it’s a performance of me not run of the mill rich with liminality