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Voices and Verses

National Poetry Month: “Cotton Candy” By Billie Duncan

The Houston poet reads a poem about the hidden life of a clown.


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Catherine Lu
“I think poetry is actually the concentration of language…You squash it into the smallest space you can, so it pushes again itself in order to express. And it’s to me the most ‘living’ of writing. I love it.” – Poet Billie Duncan

In this sound portrait, Billie Duncan talks about blending her love of literature and theater through performance poetry, and she reads her poem, "Cotton Candy," written for a dear friend and fellow poet.

Billie Duncan is a performance poet and author of three books, including Beneath the Desk (acquired by Brown University for inclusion in the Harris Collection of American Poems and Plays). Her chapbook, Requiem for the Plastic Clown, won the Weasel Press Chapbook Competition and will be released this spring. Duncan's poems have been published in numerous anthologies and journals, and she frequently appears as a featured reader at events and festivals. She is the director of The Balcony Poets; communications director of Houston Poetry Fest; and coordinator of Houston Poetry Summit. Additionally, Duncan is a graphic designer and fine artist and has a long resume as a professional musician, actress, director and songwriter.


Cotton Candy

There is something
elegantly hidden
in the scribbles of a clown.
Perhaps the white page is
makeup, and
beneath the printed words
there is another face,
a different story.

Most children laugh
at his silly hair,
ridiculous shoes,
incessantly honking horn.
Others cringe in fear,
fear like drowning in
a dream,
or hearing foggy footfalls.

It is all pretense,
he says,
all theatre, all
application of nonsense—
no real harm.

when you creep to
the edge of the muddy field,
pull up the hem of the tent
near the creaking stake,
peek inside his dressing room,
you see him disrobe,
towel off his face,
and see—
see another clown.

His diary lies on the table.
Should you risk your life?
Try to find his other layers
in the words
he wrote in solitude?
Or should you play
it safe and take the coins
your grandpa gave you,
buy one more cotton candy—
a massive pink pile
bigger than your head
that dissipates
to die in sticky threads
of tininess against
your warm and silent


This poem was published in Requiem for the Plastic Clown (Weasel Press) and is reprinted with permission by the author.

To learn more about this series, go here.

Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Senior Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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