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The Clown Punk. Simon Armitage. Who is Simon Armitage?. Simon Armitage was born in 1963 and lives in West Yorkshire. He has published ten volumes of poetry including Selected Poems. He writes for radio, television and film, and is the author of four stage plays.

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the clown punk

The Clown Punk

Simon Armitage

who is simon armitage
Who is Simon Armitage?

Simon Armitage was born in 1963 and lives in West Yorkshire.He has published ten volumes of poetry including Selected Poems.

He writes for radio, television and film, and is the author of four stage plays.

He was awarded the CBE in 2010 for services to poetry.


What do you notice about the form and structure of the poem? What effect does this have on the reader?

Look at the:

number of lines (14 – sonnet);

regularity of verses, line lengths (What form do they take? Count syllables) and rhyme scheme.


There is a great example of enjambement between verses 1 and 2 of the poem.


don’t laugh...

The space between the two verses allows the reader to do exactly what they are told not to do in verse two – laugh. The narrator seems to be challenging the reader to consider their reaction to the man’s physical appearance but then lets themselves down by asking the reader to ‘think what he’ll look like in thirty years’ time.’


‘think what he’ll look like in thirty years’ time-

the deflated face and shrunken scalp’

Armitage again uses enjambment between verses two and three.

The enjambment indicates the passage of time. Everyone’s face sags as the muscles weaken and skin loses its elasticity and here the narrator is asking the reader to think what the passage of time will do to someone with a heavily tattooed face. The enjambment allows the reader to ponder their reaction to what will happen before the narrator puts forward their own view of time’s effect on the clown punk’s face.


What is the poem about?

Whose viewpoint are we seeing events from?

Is the narrator biased? In what way?

What is Simon Armitage saying in this poem do you think? Why?

metaphorical language
Metaphorical language

‘every pixel of that man’s skin

is shot through with indelible ink’

What does the word ‘pixel’ suggest about the man?

‘dyed brain’

What does this metaphor suggest about the state of mind of the ‘clown punk’ from the narrator’s viewpoint?


Armitage uses language cleverly in order to engage his reader and to make them think.

How do the following words appeal to the reader directly?

‘don’t laugh’ ‘think’ ‘You kids’

‘remember’ ‘picture’

Why has Armitage used these words? What is his purpose for using them?

verbs and adjectives
Verbs and adjectives


  • ‘towing a dog on a rope.’
  • ‘shot through with indelible ink.’
  • ‘sad tattoos of high punk.’
  • ‘slathers his daft mush on the windscreen’
  • ‘wince and scream’
  • ‘dyed brain’

What is the effect of these words on the ideas and meaning within the poem do you think?

rhyme scheme
Rhyme scheme
  • Look at any internal rhyme in the poem and what the effect of this is.
  • Examine whether the rhyme is regular or off-rhyme and what this adds to the ideas contained within the poem.
  • Look at the final rhyming couplet and consider what you think its purpose is.
  • Think about why this is an unusual use of the sonnet form.
clown punk
Clown Punk

How do you think this man would feel to be described as a ‘clown punk’? Why?


What do you feel about the clown punk?

Do you feel sympathy? Do you feel upset/scared/angry about him or on his behalf?

How do you think Simon Armitage has created these feelings in you?

the clown punk1
The Clown Punk

Oxymoron: used to show how people view him as a ridiculous figure


Alliteration and sibilance: emphasises that it’s a menacing area (creates a sinister hiss)

Driving home through the shonky side of town,

Three times out of ten you’ll see the town clown,

Like a basket of washing that got up

And walked, towing a dog on a rope. But

Simile suggests that he is dresses eccentrically and to them looks unkempt and dishevelled

Assonance / internal rhyme emphasises how they see him as a joke, something light-hearted and amusing


If something is pixelated it becomes less clear more unreal. Emphasises how heavily tattooed he is without actually using the word. Indelible indicates permanence.

Imperatives (instruction al verbs) have the tone of a lesson (or a didactic tone). He is a cautionary tale or reminder of how not to behave / dress

Don’t laugh: every pixel of that man’s skin

Is shot through with indelible ink:

As he steps out at the traffic lights,

Think what he’ll look like in thirty years’ time –

Highlights the permanent nature of the decisions made in youth


Mirrors deflated ideals and ambitions or dreams he once had

Ambiguous? Personification?

The deflated face and shrunken scalp

Still daubed with the sad tattoos of high punk.

You kids in the back seat who wince and scream

When he slathers his daft mush on the windscreen,

Colloquial, slang, mocking ridiculous tone


As the rain washes the suds away, so too has the significance and worth of the punk diminished (lessened) when people judge him

Remember the clown punk with his dyed brain,

Then picture windscreen wipers, and let it rain.

‘dyed brain’ suggests that the narrator believes the man with the facial tattoos to be mentally challenged as though someone would have to be stupid or mentally ill to do such a thing to themselves. This is a very biased viewpoint and suggests a difference in taste and perhaps class between the two people.


In an interview Armitagetalked 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 are 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 particualrly 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.


Armitagewas 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. 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 street tonight started out more or less the same as everyone else save some series of events in their life that saw them end up out of doors and sleeping rough. Perhaps this is why the speaker in the poem wants his children to take a moment to think about the Clown Punk and remember that life can be very hard and cruel. When the speaker sees the Clown Punk he might wonder, even if just for a second, had his life taken a different route it would be him washing the windscreen and the Clown Punk driving his children home.

What is particualrly interesting is that the speaker has given the homeless man a nickname, which means that he must have seen him before at some point.