Andy Brown is Director of the Exeter University Writing Programme, and was previously an Arvon Centre Director at Totleigh Barton. His most recent book of poems is The Fool and the Physician (Salt Publishing, 2012). Other recent books are: Goose Music with John Burnside (Salt Publishing), The Storm Berm (tall-lighthouse), and Fall of the Rebel Angels: Poems 1996-2006 (Salt Publishing).
“Exploding with Carnivalesque and antic energy, The Fool and the Physician shows the formal range and wit of Andy Brown’s poetry, from traditional lyric forms such as pantoums, sonnets and ballads, to paradelles, prayers, prose poems, and many playful devices inspired by the authors of the OuLiPo.
The poems center on the figure of the Clown and the Fool, exploring the meanings and associations attached to these characters. In part one, clowns career into space, up to heaven, knock at our front doors and expound upon the end of the world. The second half of the book is based on some of the remarkable paintings of Hieronymus Bosch – from direct responses to his works, to personal poems, or the more tangential approaches such as the densely erotic ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ – playing off Bosch’s extraordinary representations of fools and visions of human folly.”
“Lyrical precision and infinite jest, as funny and curious as it is poignant and moving. These are poems that teach us there is no dignity but in recognising our own ludicrousness; they teach us to drop our pretences and relax; then they pie us in the face.”
– Luke Kennard
“Vivid and tangible, there is a real wit that at times makes me laugh out loud, a true learning, and a gentle humanity to these tender-hearted poems.”
– Lee Harwood
“Andy Brown is one of our most interesting and exciting younger poets. With its love of ideas and language, his work demonstrates that there need be no barriers in poetry; that the philosophical, the lyrical and the playful can be combined in work of assured and generous vision.”
– John Burnside
Clown in Space
In September 2009, Canadian clown Guy Laliberté,
founder of the Cirque du Soleil, was launched into
space from the Kazakhstan steppes.
Above the steppes I career into space
and wonder myself into darkness.
It is daytime down there, ‘broad daylight’
up here, but utterly dark. Below on earth
the atmosphere spins the sunlight into gold,
whilst up here there’s no atmosphere at all
to strike a glow between the stars—
there is nothing like darkness to remind you
you are extraordinarily alive, and alone.
The blue planet turns like a plate on a stick
underneath the Heavens’ billowing Top,
slung with a billion fairy lights and spots.
The stars perform their hypnotism act,
pulsing like the cities down below.
Although I’m the first of my kind into space,
my friends are all around in constellation:
Leo jumping through his ring of fire;
the Gemini twins in bareback balance,
riding around the ring on Pegasus;
the giant Betelgeuse and his team of red dwarfs;
the Sisters of the Pleiades, holding on
like the Severinis in their human pyramid.
Here is Orion, throwing knives at Venus,
and Hercules decked with his barbells and furs.
Impossible to juggle here—the balls simply float
from your hands, although tumbling is easy:
you set yourself in motion, spinning round
and round and round.
But this show is soon done
when Earth obscures the blue-eyed moon;
when my dreams slide down the thrilling slopes
of the Big Dipper; when the lit-up world floats by
and this audience of one returns to gravity
and stumbling jokes, as the ring-master Sun
calls closing time on the cirque du soleil.
The Clown’s Prayer
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
W H Auden
Oh Lord, oh Harpo Marx, oh Charlie Chaplin: glory be to the Insanity itself, for it is divinely inspired, it is carnival. Glory be to the messengers of mayhem, the anarchists, the silent performers. Glory be to the red flannel coxcomb and bells. Glory be to doing things the wrong way round. Glory be to juggling with a small dog at our heels. Glory be the mystery that deceived the Devil; the glee that leaps across our lives.
Oh Joseph Grimaldi, oh William Kempe, oh Pantomimus: where there is a rope on the floor let us wrestle it like a snake. Where there is a donkey or a pig, let us ride it home backwards. Where there is pomposity let us criticise the master and his guests; let us make fun of, be indelicate about, and rude towards, without fear of reprisal. Let us kill ourselves with laughter. When we stumble over the edge, commit us to imperfection.
Oh Harold Lloyd, oh Lou Costello, oh Oliver Hardy: blessed is he who trips across the line between the man he is and the man he would be. Blessed are they who float in the workaday world. Blessed are they who show what is wrong with the way that things are. Blessed is he who takes the pie in the face and gets knocked on the arse. Blessed are they who spank the crowd with a slap stick.
Oh Coco the Clown, oh Stan Laurel, oh Bud Abbott: teach me to wear freckles, warts, a big red nose. Teach me to stand in for the lion tamer; to touch freely on the touchiest issues. Teach me to look at myself in the mirror and find the trickster in a domino mask. Teach me to glance through the windows of the world I’ve missed. Help me be mischievous, not malicious. Teach me to ‘Sweep Up the Spotlight’.
Oh Puck, oh Nick Bottom, oh John Cleese: make me nimble and able whilst clumsy and dim. Help me mingle ecstasy and death. Make me the keystone that holds up normality’s arch. Help me to be wise enough to lead the deadpan troupe. Make me a tramp in patched and tattered clothes, then make the others do my bidding. Help me set up scenes that turn out droll. Make me wise enough to play the fool himself.
A Clown in the Moonlight
‘There is nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.’
How we feel about the clown
depends on where we see him—
a circus or party, no problem,
but ringing your doorbell at sundown?
That clown is a psycho killer,
a mirror of your fears,
knocking the world out of kilter . . .
and his laughter? It shears.
The Adoration of the Magi
after W H Auden ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’
What we do results from where we are—
emerging from the landscapes of our lives
and of our dreams—just as what happens
in this world happens, mostly, without us,
unnoticed in the distant emptiness, where
the future hangs like something long forgotten.
We do not know what goes on and what we do
we often times ignore.
As in Bosch’s painting
The Adoration of the Magi, for instance:
how everything turns away from the unmoved
town at the mouth of the river, fringed by those
familiar dunes, where a traveller is mauled
by wild animals and a woman chased by wolves
through the blasted trees and untamed land,
their suffering ignored or passing unnoticed
in the wider details of the indifferent earth;
or how everything turns from the rotundas
and stupas of our homely town, turns away
from the ruinous gallows and the horsemen
galloping beneath the ensign of the moon,
insisting, instead, that this is all that matters:
how here there came on the fourteenth day
three Kings and Magi following a star, here
to this decrepit inn under the sign of the swan,
where Joseph kindles a modest courtyard fire
and a shepherd couple sprawl indecently
rubbing their eyes in the smokescreen
how this is all that is the case,
rather than the truth of robbers hiding out
in wait for us somewhere in the spreading land,
or how each day oscillates between delight
and joy and other signs of unrest, violence:
the surface that could split at any time.
‘The Adoration of the Magi’: Perhaps the best known of Twentieth Century painting-poems is W H Auden’s ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’, after another of the great Flemish master painters, Peter Breughel, and his painting The Fall of Icarus. Auden’s poem contains the line ‘In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster’, on which I have leant heavily in my own poem.
from The Fool and the Physician (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Order The Fool and the Physician.
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