Simon Armitage was born in Marsden, West Yorkshire in 1963. He studied Geography at Portsmouth and Psychology at Manchester University, qualifying as a social worker and working in the Probation Service. He also found temporary employment as a shelf-stacker, lathe-operator and disc jockey. His varied career has been the source of a lot of his poetry. He is now a published and acclaimed poet, teacher of creative writing and broadcaster.
Clown Punk is inspired by a person Armitage used to see in his town. He describes a punk, not considered to fit in society who presses his face against the narrator’s car, scaring the children in the backseat.
The poem challenges the reader through the aggressive nature of the character’s his physical appearance which does not fit the conventions of society.
The poem follows the sonnet structure; that is 14 lines, 4 stanzas, of which three are quatrains and ending with a rhyming couplet. But the rhyme scheme of a sonnet is structured and complex, while Armitage’s poem is looser and more flexible, appropriate perhaps to the subject.
It also uses an extended metaphor of a clown. Clowns can be sad, funny, or frightening. Of course regardless of which kind of clown one chooses to be, a clown is still separated from society by his art. And so is Armitage’s ‘Clown Punk’.
For more about sonnets and their structure see Song Facts, Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare.
How does Simon Armitage present the clown punk?
One way in which Armitage presents the clown is in the first line when he says, “Driving home through the shonky side of town”
The important word here is shonky. This is because the word shonky doesn’t make that area of town nice. It gives the impression of a run down area. So this then makes us think of the clown punk of being poor, subsequently giving us a picture of the clown punk being in old clothes, non shaven face and long hair. I think it is important that Armitage has decided to put this in his first line because this then gives us an image to think of during the poem
Another way is in the third line when Armitage says, “Like a basket of washing that got up
This line reinforces my first point because you imagine washing as being crumpled up and scruffy so you can see the clown punk in creased possibly dirty clothes. Also it gives us the idea that the clown punk has just picked up any old clothes and thrown them on.
I think the clown punk could be isolated and has no friends, because of when he says “like a basket of washing that got up” and also when he says “towing a dog on a rope” here this presents him being lonely. This also makes us feel sorry for him.
I think clown punk is a young man possibly 23-24 as when Armitage says “imagine him in thirty years time, with his deflated face and shrunken scalp” this gives us an idea of his age and his facial appearance of being quite young. I think Armitage would want him to be young because it shows he may have thought that being a punk is great but then as he grows older it is a bad choice.
Also this could say he could have sense of immaturity, and because we have this sense of immaturity that is backed up by the fact he has lots of tattoos. I say this because when you’re young you think tattoos are cool and you don’t think about the consequences in later life
He may be quite a horrible person because when it says “when he slathers...