The twisted words of Jonathan Ball are going to give you nightmares, and you’re going to love it.

In his book of poetry, Clockfire, Ball manifests plays that are entirely impossible to produce. The audience is surgically transformed into animals, the actors slit their own throats and stab the audience. In Jonathan Ball’s theatre, the world may end at any moment and the gods can rain down with heaven, hell and creation. The distinction between audience and actors is blurred.

The book is comprised of abrupt depictions of each play. Ball, a sessional instructor at the University of Winnipeg, has mastered the art of crafting each show in two pages or less.

There is no reality in this book. Ball refuses to write within the confines of physics, society’s expectations and even the law.

In Hostages, he allows the actors to imprison the audience and slaughter many of them. In Wormwood, he lets absinthe’s toxic substance and key ingredient destroy the world while the audience claps politely.

Ball places you inside a grotesque world and satisfies the human need to express the cruelty and viciousness locked up inside us. He challenges our moral compass, letting us enjoy the malice his words create: “The audience wants. Refuses the same thing twice. Demands something greater. More.”

Ball’s writing is anything but bland. It’s for those who wish to look outside the restrictions of scientific possibility into the sphere of originality and dreams. 

The horror of this book is intoxicating. You are absolutely compelled to finish reading once you have started. Just like the spectators of his envisaged performances there is no turning back for the reader. Ball’s gruesome words will creep up your spine and haunt you, showing you a world of drama you could not envision on your own.

The book is a short 104 pages, but will terrorize you long after you’re done.

You He weighs the reader down with queries: How does the play end? Will the audience ever be free? When will it stop?

“Consider possible endings, pray.”

Jonathan Ball will launch Clockfire Friday, Nov. 5 at McNally Robinson on Grant Avenue. Visit

Published in Volume 65, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 4, 2010)

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