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Night at the Circus

by Kat49 

Posted: 07 August 2014
Word Count: 120

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Their bodies unfold in perfect balance
accord that defies gravity
We applaud their defiance
For an hour or more we sit, transported
under their alchemic spell
these Fausts of movement
leap and fall quite changed to something other,
turning on the wheel, airborne and unafraid 
as if they had the certainty of flight
to offer them salvation.

It can be done
And maybe we will escape death after all
For as we sit and watch them
breaking all the rules
We dance
Our souls are in them
We watch
Avid, hungry for more proof
Outside the tent, three portable loos 
Stand in line for our convenience,
Their insides smeared with shit, 
Reeking with the stench of our mortality. 

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 20:16 on 08 August 2014  Report this post
Hello Janet - Welcome to the group! I'll post a comment very soon. I see you have another poem in the archive, so I'll have a look at that too. Whenever you've time, maybe have a look at one or two poems by other members, and give us your views on them?


Kat49 at 21:29 on 08 August 2014  Report this post
Thank you, James. Looking forwad to some helpful constructive criticism.  I have read and commented on several pieces of work on this site now and will be looking at more.  Kat


James Graham at 18:16 on 09 August 2014  Report this post
Hi Kat – Thank you for posting comments. I hope you’ll get some helpful responses to your first poem in the group. I like it very much, and must mention first what I think is a stunning ending. Your last four lines come as quite a surprise, but it doesn’t take long to realise how telling they are – and how appropriate.

First we have the mundane portable loos, then the irony of ‘for your convenience’, and finally the foul mess and stench. The contrast with the sublime circus performance is powerful even on a literal level – but of course there are connotations. Reality outside the circus tent seems not just ordinary but even repugnant. For me the performance seems representative of all expressions of human excellence: I’m reminded, for example, of a performance of the Swan Lake music by the St Petersburg Philharmonic, not a defiance of gravity of course but a triumph over banality and sordidness.

Reading the poem I did feel, though, that I would like to be able to visualise the performance better. A few lines that contain visual description of the performers’ actual routines – if it’s trapeze you have in mind, such things as flying in an arc, being caught by another artiste etc.

I won’t say any more just now, until I get your feedback. Do you think the poem needs extra lines with visual detail?



I should add that I didn't miss the 'death-defying' aspect. Spectators are so elated they feel this is almost a triumph over death itself. And the comes the unpleasant reality.

nickb at 22:24 on 09 August 2014  Report this post
Hi Kat, welcome to the group.  I really enjoyed this and the ending certainly packs a punch.  The juxtaposition of the beauty of the performance with the reality of the surroundings works really well and is reinforced by the language.  The only bit I pondered over was the move from "perfection" to escaping death, I totally get the sentiment but perhaps you could lead us there more slowly.  Perhaps this is what James was getting at about expanding the first part, the beauty of the performance and the performers?  Really enjoyed it though, very thought provoking.  I can see the circus could be a rich source.


Kat49 at 06:18 on 10 August 2014  Report this post
Thank you very much, James and Nick. I will take your advice and add in some lines about elements of the performance acts, perhaps the 'Wheel of Death' act, to make the transition from 'perfection' to 'escaping death' smoother which Nick questions here.  James, you've given such detailed feedback, which I really appreciate. Thank you both for your encouragement and help. I'll repost it when I've amended it. Yours gratefully, Kat.

Kat49 at 06:29 on 10 August 2014  Report this post
I've amended it and I think it's better. Thank you once again, James and Nick, Kat.

V`yonne at 12:09 on 10 August 2014  Report this post

Our souls are in them!

Our hearts in our mouths -- yes  Perfect!

Life death and the circus... I like this. I would say that

an agreement with each other

is not quite perfect yet. I know what you mean but it's more than an agreement -- a translation -- an understanding -- a confluence -- congregation -- convergence -- convocation -- I just wanted a more spiritual word somehow that dfies understanding as well as gravity like they know each others' thoughts?

People on this forum will tell you I am such a minimalist! I would minimalise this bit:

We sit, transported
under their alchemic spell
these Fausts of movement
leap and fall quite changed to something other,
turning on the wheel, airborne and unafraid 

I'd break after slavation to let that hang on the mind and then:

It can be done.
Maybe we will escape death after all;
for as we sit and watch them
breaking all the rules

The contrast at the end is stark and blunt and undeniable. Loved it!

Bazz at 13:17 on 10 August 2014  Report this post
Hi Janet, welcome to the group. I thought this was a really striking poem, and the change in tone and the end works brilliantly in giving the poem much more weight. I wasn't sure about the repetition of defies and defiance, but apart from that I think this is a very strong piece. Hope to see more of your work on here :)

Kat49 at 17:54 on 10 August 2014  Report this post
Bazz, it's a flaw, I know, but I needed both. If I take out either, it doesn't work as well. arghhh!  I'll try and think of a substitute,  but in the meantime, will let it stand. Thank you again, Kat. 

Kat49 at 19:28 on 10 August 2014  Report this post
Thank you for your detailed response, V'yonne.  I like the alchemic spell  - 'under the spell of their magic' is a a bit of a cliche and this gets rid of it.  Haven't settled on a replacement for agreement yet. I quite liked that choice because it was what I felt as I watched them, but I see what you mean. I had considered putting a break between 'salvation' and i't can be done' when I was first editing it, so am in concordance with you there. Is that the word? concordance? or accord? I'll try accord.  Kat. :-)

James Graham at 12:24 on 12 August 2014  Report this post
Hi Kat – your lines describing the movements are very well judged:
these Fausts of movement
leap and fall quite changed to something other,
turning on the wheel

It’s just enough to let readers visualise the performance and feel something of its breathtaking effect.

The lines following these are quite superb, and I’ll tell you how I see them.
...airborne and unafraid 
as if they had the certainty of flight
to offer them salvation.

It can be done
And maybe we will escape death after all

First it says they leap and circle as if they could escape death. When we say ‘as if’ we are saying, ‘It seems to be so but probably isn’t so’. We’re expressing half-belief, or even less than half.

Then, in the break between stanzas I imagine an especially stunning routine, one that produces gasps and loud applause. Half-belief becomes belief: ‘It can be done’. You’ve achieved a very subtle transition here, from the spectator (the poem’s speaker) being merely impressed, to a much stronger, spontaneous feeling of certainty. It’s as if a wish has come true.

The comedown is anticipated in ‘hungry for more proof’, which suggests that the elation of a wish-come-true is passing. Sadly, there will be no more proof. The last four lines come as quite a shock, but on reflection I think they are saying there are unpleasant things in the world that remind us of mortality – and, in the case of the loos, of human failure even to rise to common decency at times. But the whole world isn’t a filthy shit-house; not all our experience is like that. The special feelings experienced during the performance can at least be recalled, even recaptured in a poem. And there are other good things in the world. The poem doesn’t need to say any of this; any thoughtful reader should understand what the filthy loos represent and then reflect further.

Your first draft came close to expressing all these things, but your revision brings everything to the surface. It’s an excellent poem.

I would suggest a change to the first three lines. 
Their bodies unfold to reveal perfection
Opening up perfectly balanced
In an accord with each other that defies gravity

‘Their bodies unfold’ and ‘opening up’ seem more or less to repeat the same idea. Similarly in ‘perfection’ and ‘perfectly balanced’. Also I’m not sure you need ‘an accord with each other’. The three lines could be reduced to two:
Their bodies unfold in perfect balance
accord that defies gravity

Let me know what you think of this. I’m always looking for ways to be more concise, as if a poem cost a tenner a word to write!


Kat49 at 11:09 on 13 August 2014  Report this post
Hello, James. First of all, I'd like to say a big thank you for such a detailed and helpful critiique. It's a new experience for me, having a poem that I've written myself analysed in such depth. I've taken your advice, although now the repetition of defiance is more obvious, but I still don't want to take it out. Anyway, I'm pleased with the overall result and really appreciate your help.

     Is there anything specific that you would like me to read and comment on in return? I know that I'm not up to your standard, but it's always interesting to have another perspective.

James Graham at 16:13 on 13 August 2014  Report this post
Repetition of defiant/ defiance doesn't bother me. 'We applaud their defiance' actually singles out what it is that's being applauded, not 'balance' or 'accord' but 'defiance', which points to the poem's main theme.

Looking at your 'Recent Activity' I think you've easily done your share of commenting. Certainly if you see another one you'd like to respond to, that would be great. Otherwise just wait for the next new poem. This group turns over more slowly than Flash; new work doesn't appear quite so often.

I look forward to your next poem!


Teuchter at 13:00 on 21 August 2014  Report this post
Hi Kat49
If I'm honest, I started out thinking it was the least I could do to read your work after you took time to read mine. I do apologies for that and also say how I did enjoy the read of Night at the Circus! I don’t mean I’m surprised -hopefully you ken alight what I do mean :)?
There’s a real sense of the ‘Fantastic’ while being transported in the tent. One I have experienced in the theatre in London myself: a world where the impossible just might be possible, a world of wonder and magic to lve in forever -if only! While outside, waiting for everyone who still breathes air, the unescapable reality of life and death. Not that ‘living’ is totally a lost cause of course! :)
Just read your first piece, the one you dedicated to Kirstie Tancock. A very inspirational, brave woman. Thank you for your poems and also, pointing me to Kirstie's inspirational poem and news story at a time when world news seems despairingly black.

Teuchter :)

desdillon at 10:40 on 22 August 2014  Report this post
as if they had the certainty of flight

what a brilliant line and applicable to all things in life.

i felt what this poem wanted me to feel - the rise to actual awe and the fall to the shit smeared toilets - yet still leaving the circus with some residue of hope and faith in a something else - another way to be, A more exalted life.

Dave Morehouse at 15:01 on 22 August 2014  Report this post
Hi Kat. Much has been said already and I am late to the party, as usual. I won't add anything at this time but I wish you a warm wlecome to the group. There are some great poets here. This forum is a wonderful give and take of diverse ideas. That contrast and the suggestions that bubble up out of discussion helps each of us hone and expand our craft.

PS. I sit firmly in the minimalist camp with Oonah and others.  

Kat49 at 22:15 on 24 August 2014  Report this post
Thanks, Teuchter.  I do ken urr meaning and much appreciate your encouraging comments. It's a strange coincidence that many of the people whom I have encountered who have Cystic Fibrosis are inspirational. Looking forward to your next installment


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