Clown Congress 2023

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
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