Try Poetry: Frank’s Wing + Jacob McArthur Mooney

As part of the Try Poetry series, we’re asking our featured poets to let us know how and when they got into the form: today’s poet Jacob McArthur Mooney gives us an exact date and time in today’s interview. Find out when, as well as what collection comes eagerly recommended by Jacob, and read “The Day the Clown Cried” from his fourth collection Frank’s Wing (ECW Press).


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An Interview with Poet Jacob McArthur Mooney

All Lit Up: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry? Jacob McArthur Mooney: I decided I wanted to write poems on July 16th, 1999. I was sitting in my parents’ living room in Chester, Nova Scotia. It was four fifteen in the afternoon (this is Atlantic time); I was helping friends to put on a play that week but had the day free until my call time. My mother was listening to a news article about the decision to rebury the Romanovs. Our dog was sick, but would eventually get better.I was reading my mother’s copy of Leonard Cohen’s Selected Poems – the M&S one from 1968 with the three heads on the cover – specifically the longish poem “Disguises,” which as we all remember started on page 168 of that book, specifically the two lines near the middle that read “Goodbye, articulate monsters./Abbott & Costello have met Frankenstein.” and these two lines gave me that peculiar mix of reactions I keep coming back to poems to find. To be baffled and laid bare how something that stupendous could be that easy to say.The poem was profound but self-apparent, it was clearly a constructed object but it felt so casual and so easy. It, and another couple hundred poems since then that I consider my personal canon, was a magic box. A fifteen-year-old theatre nerd is surely a mark for a poem as angry and self-possessed and musical as “Disguises.” “Goodbye, articulate monsters” is a teenager’s phrase. It’s not my favourite poem anymore but I do owe it a great deal.It rained that day in Nova Scotia. I don’t know if it rained or not in Toronto, where I live now.ALU: If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so? JMM: This poem really grows out of the epigraph by the comic actor Harry Shearer, said after a private screening of Jerry Lewis’s unreleased movie The Day the Clown Cried. It is such a maximalist, awed, almost gateful description of Bad Art that it feels like he’s come stumbling out of a religious awakening to deliver it.Like all the other works of art in Frank’s Wing, I’m writing about it without seeing it, instead imagining it from the reactions of contemporaries, and there is something specifically inspiring to me about art that is so hated. The Day the Clown Cried, Lewis’s tragicomedy about a circus clown hired to shephard children, pied piper-style, to Auschwitz, is likely really bad but I found myself wondering about its creation, and so there’s the poem. The poem is Lewis explaining himself, to Harry Shearer and to himself and to us. Maybe it’s not a bad movie. Robert Benigni won two Oscars for a film with a similar plot in 1999 and many people who aren’t me seemed to really like it. Anyway, it is rumoured that an embarrassed Lewis gave the film’s only print to the Library of Congress on the promise they wouldn’t show it to anyone until June 2024, which isn’t long from now. Maybe we’ll all get to see it one day soon.ALU: What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?JMM: You know, there are just so many ways that people might come to poetry. There’s an easy way to answer this question that relies on “accessibility” as a means of introduction, but how do I know that’s what anybody wants? Maybe people come to poetry searching for other stuff? Ambiguity. Complexity. Heterogeneity. All these things that form the walls of our supposed niche. You can’t know strangers.So I don’t know how to answer this except to give you the name of a recent book of poems I love, and whether it’s your first book of poems or your next, I hope you love it too. My friend Adam Sol’s Broken Dawn Blessings came out a couple years ago and is so full of memorable lines that good, warm sadness. It’s eagerly recommended by me.

The Day the Clown Cried”

From Jacob McArthur Mooney’s collection Frank’s Wing.“The comedian Harry Shearer was said to comment upon leaving the private showing at Jerry Lewis’s house: ‘This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.’” —Frank Schumpeter
I went to dog-whistle,
but all the dogs arrived
with subpoenas in their jaws,
quivers full of arrows,
and God complexes.
When I held them down
they barked the names of saints.
The cleaner I hired
has stacked my trash like sculpture.
Hold fast: my malignant mouth
will censor every compliment.
Unless I am threatening
to harm myself or others,
come be a made-up mind for me.
Go home, lightweight. Go inefficiently.
Heap my private entrance up with letters.
I’m a soft puncher.
I misplace my feet.
But until I turn a corner
and the corner self-corrects,
know that I’ll come back.
Like whichever Greek hero
you feel needs the boost
of this exposure most,
I will come back
like he came back:
a perfect object,
makeup ladies trailing
behind me like a wake.
The Day the Clown Cried” is excerpted from Frank’s Wing by Jacob McArthur Mooney, copyright © 2023 by Jacob McArthur Mooney. Reprinted with the permission of ECW Press.

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Jacob McArthur Mooney
’s previous collections have been shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award in Poetry and the Dylan Thomas Prize. Originally from Nova Scotia, he now lives in Toronto with his family. Frank’s Wing is his fourth book.Photo credit Elyse Friedman.

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Thanks to Jacob McArthur Mooney for walking us through the very day he got into poetry, making a solid recommendation, and sharing “The Day the Clown Cried” with us for Try Poetry (Why Not?).Remember, if you purchase a copy of Frank’s Wing or any of the other featured Try Poetry collections, you’ll receive a free digital sampler containing all of our featured poems. (Purchase from All Lit Up or from your local independent bookseller; send proof of payment to if you purchase from your local!)