Clown Punk

Topics: Homelessness, Greek mythology, Medusa Pages: 7 (2491 words) Published: January 11, 2012
A man driving home through the rundown (shonky) side of town with his children in the backseat sees a heavily tattooed homeless man. The children wince at the sight of the vagrant when he tries to wash the windscreen of the car in the hope of making a few pence. The father tells the children to remember the 'clown punk' although his reason is unclear. The philosophical tone of the poem would suggest that the speaker wants his children to look past the decay of the clown punk and see his inner tragedy and humanity. The image of the windscreen wipers and rain in the final rhyming couplet suggests a washing away of the past, or a sense of renewal or cleansing. The ambiguous ending of the poem is typical of an autobiographical poem where the poet is writing from memory. In an interview with BBC Bradford and Yorkshire Armitage explained that the clown punk in the poem is based on a man Armitage saw around town: I used to see around town quite a lot, who once pressed his face up against the windscreen of my car while I was stopped at the traffic lights. There's a tradition in English Literature of writing such poems, where one type of person stands eyeball to eyeball with another type, and something passes between them. Not sure what happened to this guy - haven't seen him for a while. Perhaps he became a Lib Dem councillor in Heckmondwike. We are going to focus on character and voice, which is, after all, how this poem has been labelled within the new AQA anthology. In his interview (see above) Armitage talks about a homeless man he used to see around town. On one memorable occasion the homelessman washed Armitage's windscreen and in that moment they looked into each other's eyes and shared something. What marks this character out as special is that the Clown Punk is an outsider in every sense. First of all and perhaps most obviously he is a homeless person, who unfortunately is very much marginalised and dispossessed in our contemporary society. They live amongst the filth and detritus of society simply trying to survive. They are largely ignored and for the most people will go out of their way to avoid homeless people and in some cases may even feel repulsed and afraid of them, like the backseat children in the poem. In addition to this, Armitage's Clown Punk looks particularly intimidating with his high punk tattoos and sunken cheeks. His tattoos seem to speak of a different stage in the man's life, perhaps when he was younger. Armitage was very much a child of the 1970s and 80s when the punk rock movement was at its vibrant best. Punk stood for rebellion in the face of authority, a desire to be free of the suffocating rules of the establishment and of a latent anger at unemployment rigid conservatism. In this sense we might assume that the Clown Punk was a rebel in his past. His 'high punk' tattoos are relics of that past and also imply that the Clown Punk was a dedicated punk and fully embraced the ideas and ethos of the movement. The fact that the speaker calls him the 'Clown Punk' seems derogatory, as if the man is a joke, but we might do well to remember that there is something disturbingly and ironically sad about clowns - the painted smiles, the ragged clothes. In fact there is a long tradition of association between clowns and the homeless. Charlie Chaplain's most famous character is a homeless person, or tramp as they are sometimes known since they have to 'tramp' about from place to place. Charlie Chaplain played his character as a clown and we all laughed, but not without seeing the tragedy of the tramp's life. The figure of the homeless person is also a figure of fear for another very important reason - the fear of becoming homeless yourself. We live in a world where money talks, but lose your job, fall behind on your bills and start to slip down that slide and it is terrifying how quickly you can find yourself in trouble. It's sobering to think that every homeless person sleeping on the...
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