Sarah Newman – SST9 3rd Draft

28 Jun

Firstly, sorry that this is about half an hour late. My poem’s changed a lot because I realised the reason I was struggling with editing is that the core of what I wanted to say wasn’t there. I definitely feel like I’ve got the core now and it feels a lot more honest. Because it’s changed a lot it still needs work on line edits and stuff like making sure metaphors are consistent and if every line is needed. For feedback, I’d like to know whether you feel like you get the main idea, and if you do, what makes it do that, if you don’t what’s missing. Some ideas on what I might need to do for line edits would help too. What I’d love though is some ideas for performance, because I’m totally unimaginative with tech. I would like it to show the two sides of carnival and circus, both as quite vibrant, with a quieter space as the escape, although throughout the performance that space becomes more and more enveloped by the circus and the carnival. I also think it might be cool if I wore something that a clown would wear, or maybe some face paint. Anyway, enough ramble, here’s the poem!

Circus vs Carnival

When I was 14 anticipating the haunts of the ghost train,

I thought with my legs, swaggered past

the astro-turf, thought with my arms

and loosed my turquoise tie,

thought with my belly and guzzled

waffles sat outside a cafe with two civilian

school friends, dripping syrup on my shirt and nose diving

into ice cream. Giddy on borrowed money

and my vigilante status.

We had skived a compulsory after-school netball tournament.

But, more importantly, for another hour,

I escaped the battle between the circus and the carnival.

For maybe the first time, I felt untouchable.


For an hour, I didn’t have to listen to the haunts of the ghost train,

or fear the big top falling.

For an hour, I could pretend the carnival wasn’t dancing

because my mum would lose her job.

For an hour, I could pretend that we could indulge, gorge and celebrate,

without fear that spirits would curse the good.


The day after I felt untouchable my mum won the election.

Her reward was to keep performing every year

and practising routines with my dad at home whilst I tried to watch the telly

and hide from the screeches of the carnival and the civilians.

My parents’ fingers kept rolling through leaflets describing new jokes,

thicker make-up, the biggest of big tops, cheaper prices

and carnival scandals.

The ghost train broke down and no one ever fixed it.

But the carnival came back stronger,

with bigger prizes and harder games.

The big top stayed in place, the red leaflets kept rolling.

Staying with the circus meant the carnival would never go away,

and trying to please people who kept asking for ferris wheels and candy floss,

because they think a circus and a carnival are the same thing.


So why do I hate the carnival?

The thing about ghost trains

is there aren’t really any ghosts.

Humans tap you on the back and make you shudder,

humans play recorded cackles on loop.

The same human who collects your change in the flashing lights

haunts you in the darkness.

And that used to reassure me.

What could humans do to me?

I soon learnt that my parents were regarded not as entertainers

but freaks

and the smiles of stall owners were for the clinking in their pockets

whilst civilians repeatedly lost out on the promise of giant teddy bears

and came out vomiting from the waltzer.

That they laughed at my parents’ bright wigs, red noses and big shoes.

They wear colours to brighten your lives, slapstick because they want you to laugh

even if they have to fall. And they wear oversized shoes

because they hope one day all our feet will be that big.


At university I wash the face paint off

I keep picking scraps from my eyes after general election results.

All I see is floats parading down the street,

carnies wishing good luck to their customers

and tickets littering the concrete as the same customers stick their hands

in empty pockets.

I hide myself from the carnival and escape to my studies,

but the circus follows me in face paint rubbed into textbooks,

the slips of ‘roll up, roll up’ in seminar discussions

and the trapeze in my bank account

when I try to nurse a cocktail in a bar with friends

and think I could’ve felt untouchable.

But when I was 14, my friends changed lyrics of pop songs

in ode to my mother, and over waffles they teased the carnies

putting up last minute flyers.

I tried to escape the carnival

and carried around my circus freak status

because you can’t be a runaway with a red nose

even if wearing clown shoes

means it hurts less when other drunk students

step on my feet.


One day maybe I’ll greet you with a poem

as the ringmaster, or a lifetime runaway.

But most likely I’ll be a second generation clown freak

letting you laugh at my hijinks

in the hope that you’ll spend your change on my show

because even if the ghost train no longer haunts the carnival

they’ll always be men promising giant teddy bears

grasping for your pennies.

So shove that cream pie in my face and I’ll do my best to fill

oversized shoes.

Someone’s got to try.

4 Responses to “Sarah Newman – SST9 3rd Draft”

  1. secondanne June 29, 2015 at 8:22 am #

    Hi there Sarah – whizzing through feedback today so this will be a gallop through your poem – hope that’s ok?
    There’s a load of stuff in here so I thought I’d tell you what I thought it is about:
    Your mum is a political candidate and your teen years were spent watching as your parents worked to get her elected – you are calling this the Circus as if they are time honoured performers I think and the rest of the world is a carnival – I think this poem is about how at 14 it all seemed worthwhile and you were proud of your mum’s success but as you get older you realise that the mainstream world of politics is a carnival of tricksters, people want something for their money and your family seem like freakish clowns, a mockery of what you believe them to be – at university you try and escape it but you feel that you can’t escape your roots (the circus) and your big red nose is a give away.
    I think the confusion for me is what is carnival and what is circus, and I think if you define that more for yourself and don’t spell out the analogy to us so heavily then we will get what you’re saying much better – let your description do the work rather than labelling what you are saying – as in actually saying ‘carnival’ and ‘circus’.
    There is a lot of emotion in here and I get a sense that you are still trying to work through some of it – I wonder if there is still too much going on – is there any part of this poem that you could pull out and stand on its own to make the same point?
    I think you have a few key images that you are trying to work with and mean a lot to you – the red nose, the big feet – I guess what I’m saying is that if you tell us about a big red nose and over sized feet we will know you are talking about ‘circus’ you don’t need to even use the word circus.
    The analogies are still a bit confused I think.
    I’m going to come back to this later and read it again – hope this has been of some help???

  2. MouthyPoets June 29, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    Hi Sarah!

    Think you’re really getting to the core of the poem, much clearer than the last draft, and looking good!

    ‘thought with my legs’ – nice

    sat outside a cafe with two civilian school friends – civilian? not sure why this is here?

    For an hour, I could pretend the carnival wasn’t dancingbecause my mum would lose her job.For an hour, I could pretend that we could indulge, gorge and celebrate,without fear that spirits would curse the good. – these lines seem a bit full, and i don’t understand how the carnival wasn’t dancing relates to the job? i think can be made clearer?

    The day after I felt untouchable – I think this stanza is probably longer than the point it makes/describes, so can be cut down a little?

    So why do I hate the carnival? – i think the poem would be stronger with this line taken out?

    I feel like at this point, the poem gets a little over-descriptive – there’s a lot of text doing quite similar things, and you lose some of the conciseness and therefore strength the beginning of the poem here – perhaps, as an exercise, put a line through everything you think might be not needed, or that the poem could live without (you can always add them in again later) and see how it reads then?

    ‘Someone’s got to try’ – really like this as an ending

    Overall, very excited about this poem! Think you’re right about hitting the core of it more than last draft, and main thing i would say is to keep whittling it down to the core to make it as punchy as possible.


  3. Katie June 29, 2015 at 9:01 pm #

    Hi Sarah,

    I really love everything up to ‘For maybe the first time, I felt untouchable’ – I think some of the points made above are maybe why this bit is my favourite section – probably because it’s more descriptive and gives a clearer picture. I think maybe that first bit has a stronger rhythm too?

    I was a bit confused about what the ‘circus’ and the ‘carnival’ represented, though I felt like the carnival represented a majority of society and the circus a minority?

    The job line also didn’t make sense to me.

    I like ‘I hide myself from the carnival and escape to my studies…and think I could’ve felt untouchable’.

    You use ‘freak’ a few times near the end – I understand why because of it’s connotation with carnival, but perhaps play with some other words or metaphors that could be used instead of some of them?

    In terms of tech – I think the clearest way to do what you suggested is to have the stage increasingly marked out physically by one aspect somehow. Maybe if you are including yourself in the circus that becomes over-powered then you could be in a spot light that shrinks smaller and smaller until you can barely stand in it. Or the stage could be gradually invaded by carnival figures or items representing carnival like fabric. Clown make-up being forced upon a person on stage could also look quite violent if you wanted.

    Hope that helps 🙂


  4. MouthyPoets July 6, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    Just wanted to say now I’ve done my final draft thanks for taking the time to give me feedback, definitely used a bunch of this!

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