The Death of a Clown By Tom Bland

Review by R J Dent

Beneath the striking cover of Tom Bland’s poetry pamphlet, The Death of a Clown, there is a challenging and unsettling series of poems. What is effective about this collection is the way in which Tom Bland uses his thought-provoking poetic juxtapositions to elicit, in some cases to force, new meanings from old words.

The poems in The Death of a Clown are full of references to objects from the present (YouTube, iPhone, a Channel 4 documentary), which Tom Bland neatly juxtaposes with objects from the past (a Polaroid camera, a radio tower, a Victorian house), in order to ensure that the poems in The Death of a Clown do what effective and moving poetry always does; to create an ongoing and meaningful dialogue between the present and the past.

Like Stephen King before him, Tom Bland carefully, but seemingly casually, litters his work with cultural references. In The Death of a Clown, Tom Bland’s use of the brand name detritus of modern culture via his invocation of the names of familiar household products deepens the intense realism of his poetry.

This is not to suggest the poems are in the realist school of poetry. They are most definitely not. Throughout the collection, there are references to various religions and systems of belief: Sufism, the Church of Satan,  The Rajneesh movement, Islamism, Christianity. Religious leaders are invoked: Jesus, Osho, St. Paul, Muhammad, and then they are adroitly, although possibly inevitably, juxtaposed with serial killers: Ted Bundy, Dennis Nilsen, and Ed Gein. These pointed references and these juxtapositions raise serious questions about the natures of the revered and the reviled, the followers and the followed.

In the same way that the ‘confessional’ poets wrote accounts of their lives by putting fictionalised versions of themselves into their poetry, Tom Bland is also totally unafraid, possibly even eager, to put himself in his own poems:

“…“Don’t be afraid to scream, Tom,”
she said/I said to myself.”

Mark Waldron says that “these poems aren’t confessional, they don’t seek absolution”, and in that, he is correct, although Tom Bland does utilise the ‘confessional’ device in order to give the appearance of speaking directly to the reader (and to himself).

With regards to subject matter, Tom Bland, like Jeremy Reed, is using poetry to push at the genre’s self-imposed boundaries and seems to be trying and succeeding in extending poetry’s subject remit.

The poems themselves are very England-based. The places are name-checked: Bethnal Green, Dalston, Hertfordshire – even the Roundhouse gets an honorary mention; English newspapers and magazines are used as props: The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sun, Teen magazine, Hello! magazine. In this respect, the poems are very cinematic, the imagery is strikingly clear, and the light is always good, even when it’s dark.

The collection is saturated in sex; paraphilias abound; the sex in The Death of a Clown is pan-sexual: hetero, homo, bi:

“It was and wasn’t fetishism, it was and wasn’t sexuality; it was and wasn’t perversion…”

A later line in the same poem suggests that ‘it’ might very well be “the desire to be something other”.

Consequently, the writers cited are mostly referenced as the creators of texts on or about sexuality, often troubled or complex sexuality: D.H. Lawrence, the Marquis de Sade, Edward Edinger, Colin Wilson; the clothing that gets mentioned is often fetishistic: body paints, a monochrome dress, see-through knickers, faux-leather corsets, a policeman’s helmet, satin and PVC G-strings and PVC cowboy boots.

The title of the collection, The Death of a Clown, underscores every human’s inevitable demise. Tom Bland lists some of the stimulants and depressants that humans use to dull their awareness of their own mortality: acid, coke, speed, ketamine, cigs, Weston’s Old Rosie cider, and brandy.

The gods Hekate and Ra get invoked, but they seem to have no discernible power over human destiny, because ultimately, Tom Bland puts the responsibility for being human squarely onto each human being. The poems in The Death of a Clown reveal precisely what it means to be human, and what it means to be mortal, with each human being aware of their own inevitable and imminent death. 

• The Death of a Clown (ISBN: 978-1-9997147-5-8) by Tom Bland is now available in paperback from Bad Betty Press.

R J Dent is the author of a novel, Myth; a poetry collection, Moonstone Silhouettes, as well as English translations of Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil and Lautréamont’s The Songs of Maldoror. His official website is: www.rjdent.com


Tom Bland completed an MA in Contemporary Performance Practices at UEL, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Analytical Psychology and Healing Practice from SOPH/Middlesex University. His debut poetry collection, The Death of a Clown was published by Bad Betty Press in 2018, and his new book, Camp Fear, is coming out in 2021. He offers online coaching sessions and can be contacted at [email protected]

Tom Bland’s website: www.spontaneouspoetics.co.uk

Bad Betty Press website: https://badbettypress.com/the-death-of-a-clown-tom-bland


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