ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe


surrealist poetry Colquhoun experimented with automatic writing throughout her life and also took part in surrealist group games in which collective poetic invention took the place of individual inspiration. The disquieting, and often humorous, effect of these word games lies partly in the contrast between the strict formal structure of the exchange and its apparently arbitrary content. In a subversion of language, form and content pull in different directions. One example of the genre is the chain poem. The chain poem is one in which one participant writes a line, folds the paper to conceal it from view and passes it to a second player who does the same before passing it to a third. A broad structure such as ‘question and answer’ or ‘if and then’ may be agreed beforehand. Based on the familiar party game, it is another surrealist activity for exploring the unconscious. The results are often banal, sometimes humorous and frequently lascivious because the apparently random content is likely to be selected for its anticipated effect upon one’s playing partners. Some chain poems were published in the surrealist periodical TRANSFORMAcTION in 1973 although they had been written much earlier. Here is one example: He: If my love could be written down She: Then the waterfalls would all turn black. If one turned around three times He: Then I would fuck you all day long. If my tongue could reach your womb through your mouth She: Then the toads would spit fire and all the gates would creak. If I went on a long sea-trip He: Then even apple-trees would be monogamous. Colquhoun and del Renzio produced a chain poem on their wedding day. The other participants were their witnesses, Olive Bellamy and Conroy Maddox, and friends Robert and Lilian Melville. Maddox offered a typically anti-clerical contribution: A wax model with stale bread under her eyelids And the crevice of her armpits sodden with leaves Chased a tonsured priest in his underwear Through the corridors of my mind Never one to let truth get in the way of a good anecdote, Maddox put about the story that to counter del Renzio’s impressive list of Russian names, he falsely signed the register ‘Conroy Griffin Boost Maddox’, invalidating the legality of the marriage by doing so. (1) Inspection of the marriage register, however, dispels the myth. Maddox did, in fact, sign his lines in the chain poem ‘Conroy Griffon-Boost-Maddox’, showing that there is some truth in the story, but it was hardly the subversive act of the anecdote. Colquhoun regarded the “found-object poem” as an example of automatism, writing: surely such objects are found through the exercise of the automatic faculty? (I have found poems in a Gaelic Grammar and in entomological lists.) The Gaelic grammar produced the unpublished Poems of He and She. The title refers to the gender of masculine and feminine nouns (with Colquhoun gender is never far away). The poems include the following useful phrases: I value that greatly I desire it I remember him he owes me a shilling The entomological list produced Hypnagogic Interior, published in Osmazone, of which the following is an excerpt: Silvery arches Small angle shades Scarce burnished brass Small argent-and-sable Notes 1. “Griffon-boost” comes from the Rolls Royce engine intended for installation in the Spitfire fighter plane. The story was repeated by Remy, M. “Surrealism in Britain”. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999, p. 353.
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