Chris McLoughlin SST9 Piece – Line Edit

28 Jun

Technical Wish list

Possibly a different colour light on the stage for each stanza?

A crowd to begin with possibly? then less and less as the poem goes on, to give the poem a real sense of loneliness at the end? People in masks?

No sfx or music, No projections needed


He was born in a carnival ward
Paraded past surgical masks, vocal chords
Raw, hospital beds wheeled past like floats
Bedsheets trailing, new mothers Brailling new-borns
At four, he’s brought into the school procession
Playground crowds pickpocketing memories and lunch money
He paints on a smile and fits into the class clown shoes
Soon he learns that words are like fireworks
And the brief flash of light in his dark sky gets him through

He was raised on carnival streets
Cracked Tarmac tamed by millipede feet, marching
To the inner city beat of steel pan drums
His estate’s bathed in red light, on the walk home from school
he keeps his head down, out of sight of the coconut shy,
contortionists-for-hire and medicine men
cars crawling past like Chinese Dragons
Smoke pouring out rolled down windows
He hurries back to his room
Past the shouting in the kitchen
Headphones on, his pen pirouetting words onto the 59p notepad

He works down Carnival Way
Where shop windows are art galleries
And art galleries are closed.
Where words like austerity are thrown about like juggling balls
And university costs 27 Grand overall
He can’t be what he wants to be.
There’s no audience for his acrobatic word act
So he puts on a costume and a mask, and sells processed meat
They say ‘Hey, it’s a McJob at least, and the McPension’s not bad.’
But last night, after a bottle of wine and ten cigarettes
His mask broke. He glued it, but the cracks still show.
So he doesn’t make it to work the next day,
And it gets harder and harder to leave his flat of warm grey,
His safe cage, in case people notice he’s starting to break

He lives in a carnival world
Where medication is expensive but booze is cheap
His truffle trained snout seeking out
spirits. Drowns in Navy Rum. Shots from Captain
Morgan. Releases the Kraken. Chokes down smoke.
Breath is heavy, lung-expensive. Flicker of a TV screen on mute
The phone buzz beside him ignored,
Just wants another shadow on the floor
Notepad lies open on the floor, untouched, ‘cos now
Every. Word. Hurts.
He left the path and can’t find his way back

He died in a carnival country
Where Mental health is ignored if you’re poor or unknown
Fed scraps torn off the NHS whilst it’s stripped to the bone
Nobody remembers his name. His grave just reads

‘here lies the broken mask
Of somebody who could have been.’

We live in a Carnival World
So full of beauty and colour and magic
But this house of fun can have moving floors
And a hall of mirrors that can show you as something you’re not

So if you’re feeling low
If you have someone, reach out and let them know
And if you don’t, come find me after the show
Or if not, write it down, and show this carnival world
That we are not alone.


3 Responses to “Chris McLoughlin SST9 Piece – Line Edit”

  1. secondanne June 29, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    I’m whizzing through today Chris so please do email me or call me if you don’t get what I mean – a question… is he in UK or America? because meds aren’t expensive here – but they are in America – I know that the prescription charge is high but it is nowhere near what the drugs actually cost – and that thought stopped me listening to the flow of your poem – so can you cut that line? I think the start is great and I’m with you up until he gets a job in Mucky Dees and then you start spelling it out long hand rather than in the style of the first part of the poem – it seems a bit laboured – towards the end you get a bit preachy and start telling me instead of showing me and the poem seems rushed – I think using terms like ‘mental illness’ are a catch all – actually the austerity line jarred too – I like the idea of throwing words around like juggling balls but would prefer you gave me three current buzzwords and juggled them for me instead of saying ‘words like austerity and thrown around’ – I know you are saying that we need to reach out to each other and write to out – but wonder of you explored his relationship with writing a bit more at the start – his loss of writing at the end would share the message that writing is what made him sane/kept him sane – maybe have him surviving his job by coming home to write and then losing that over time and so slipping into depression – the final stanza is a but too trite and rhymey for me – maybe invite us to come up to you after the show to buy a notebook because they’re only 59p? I like the thought that writing is medication and costs less than meds and less than booze and drugs. Hope some of this helps 🙂

  2. Katie June 29, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Anne makes some strong points above, particularly that the first part where you’re more descriptive feels like it makes the point better than later when it’s spelt out more.
    I think this poem is really strong – I found it really quite moving in parts and I like what you’re trying to say with it.

    Maybe it’s because of the ‘bedsheets trailing’ but having read what you’d written about staging ideas before the poem I envisioned some dramatised choreography of a few people on stage behind you using white/cream cloth under red light (e.g. could lift a piece from the ground into existence, cradle like a baby, create a hooded coat from it or clutch at it, even use it to indicate bedding) – just a random thought.

    Katie 🙂

  3. MouthyPoets July 2, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Loved how the stanzas begin and the way it’s different each time but the repetition of ‘carnival’ is constant.
    Also really like the rhythm of the poem – particularly in the first half – but think it loses it a little after ‘can’t find his way back’ where it feels a little rushed to get to the end?

    Having said that, I really like ‘here lies the broken mask
    Of somebody who could have been.’
    But I agree with Anne about the telling and not showing so perhaps work on that to make it as strong as the first stanza?

    Favourite line: ‘Playground crowds pickpocketing memories and lunch money’

    A few tech suggestions:
    – When I read this I imagined the first line to be performed in complete darkness before the lights come up.
    – Also think some form of movement would work really well with your piece because of the story it tells.
    – If you include people in masks or someone doing movement then I think the UV lights would look great with a few selected things being visible (e.g. the masks, gloves, shoes) so you can track everyone’s movement on stage and see the crowd getting smaller (to show the loneliness).

    Hopefully that makes sense? Let me know if it doesn’t and we can have a proper chat about it.

    Afrah x

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