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Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Entertainer


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Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly getting ready for the show, Sarasota, Florida: photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, 1945 (Joseph Janney Steinmetz Collection, Florida State Library)



Only light in the house beams on him, showing
Pindrop poise before the wall of noise moment;
There's quite a din before he falls on his sword.
Didn't someone say words are swords?

Tears flow. Last thing he sees is his life flashing
Before his eyes. Last things he hears are the vast
Basso of the cannon going off, his swift
Whistling explosion out of the barrel,

The lion tamer's laugh, the strange ballistics
As he soars over the highwire walker's pole
And out through the hole in the tent peak.
Heaven sent on this grim mission, he creates

A diversion that lasts till intermission,
Then jumps on his comic tricycle and rides.





Ringling Circus clown Lou Jacobs with Carla Wallenda, Sarasota, Florida: photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, 1941 (Joseph Janney Steinmetz Collection, Florida State Library)



Ringling Circus clowns Albert "Flo" White, left, and Gene Lewis in Sarasota, Florida: photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, c. 1945 (Joseph Janney Steinmetz Collection, Florida State Library)


 Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly, Sarasota, Florida: photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, 21 March 1947 (Joseph Janney Steinmetz Collection, Florida State Library)


Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly in a bubble bath: Sarasota, Florida: photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, c. 1955 (Joseph Janney Steinmetz Collection, Florida State Library)


Raising the big tent for the final show of the season: Sarasota, Florida: photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, November 1947 (Joseph Janney Steinmetz Collection, Florida State Library)


Ringling Circus general manager Arthur "Art" Concello, Sarasota, Florida: photo by Joseph Janney Steinmetz, 1941 (Joseph Janney Steinmetz Collection, Florida State Library)

10 comments:

Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Emmett Kelly could ride a trike in a bathtub or off a mountain. How could one not laugh at his remorse-face? Seeing Emmett Kelly was a grace note of my childhood.

Red Shuttleworth

TC said...

Sad Clown

TC said...

Red, I saw the Ringling show, too -- Kelly was a genius of melancholy, a pantomime artist for the ages.

I suppose the poem (which was writ during my two-bit pedagogic career) may be an attempt to enlarge upon the figure, to include, for example, poets -- those classic clowns who are not always aware they're in the circus, but can often be found trying too hard, all the same.

ACravan said...

This is so beautifully composed (poem and pictures). I really love the top portrait of Kelly backstage wearing his wristwatch. He was my favorite and really the only clown I ever had any time for. Perhaps I'm being unfair and I'm too uneducated on the subject or my experience is too limited. But Kelly seemed to be a thoroughgoing artist -- wonderful concentrated performances with no self-consciousness, theorizing or editorializing about them -- in contrast to later, artier but less artful performers. What a fine tribute to Emmett Kelly. Curtis

manik sharma said...

Tom,
This is touching..It reminds me of a very popular hindi film from the ancient age "Mera Naam Joker" ..meaning "My Name is Joker"..a parable from the film went something like this(i will try to translate the best i can)

"Mother(to his son who wishes to become a clown like his father): Your father spent a life-time making people laugh,he told me he had a heart big enough for everybody. When he fell off the ledge,and perished right in front of their eyes. They stood and clapped,for they were convinced it was part of his act.That he would go that far,that his journey was all but the smiles on their faces. I knew it was"

As for the boy,he does eventually become a clown. No more spoilers.

TC said...

Thanks very much, Curtis and Manik.

Emmett Kelly must have been born with an old soul. His physical comedy seems to express all the weariness in the world.

Playing the clown is perhaps one way to sneak out from under the responsibility of standing behind what one has said or is about to say. Sometimes the burden gets to be just too much. Then one is reduced to "clowning yet meaning it..."

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Tom:

The preciseness of this poem is stunning. Just beautiful. Reminded me of Fellini and his reverence for clowns, the history and meaning behind the variety of clowns, in its own way as very serious as kabuki acting. Kelly communicated something very deep, very elemental to those of us privileged to remember him.

It is so fine to think of the clown floating up, up through the tent hole peak and beyond.

Don

TC said...

Don, yes, now that you mention it, that's a nice moment. Maybe the thing should have ended right there. (But a sonnet is a hard thing to kill off in a state of unfulfillment, would that be the word?)

Wooden Boy said...

The lion tamer's laugh - There's a fearful thing to think on.

I suppose the circus is forever in town these days and the jokes aren't up to much.

MThose flowing tears won't do the make up any good.


TC said...

It happens even to the best ones...