What is J. G. Ballard’s ‘Court Circular’?

In 1968 J. G. Ballard published an unusual advertisement in Ambit magazine #37 which he entitled ‘Court Circular’. This unusual piece veered away from traditional subversive advertising formats and instead moved towards, in a surrealist vein, empowering the mass psyche through art (which was of course all the rage in 1968). Court Circular includes a work of concrete poetry headed ‘print-out for Claire Churchill’, Ballard’s long-term girlfriend after the untimely and sudden death of his wife whilst on a getaway. The poem depicts a columnal series of repeated words on one page, and a series of small fauvist-like images drawn by Bruce Mclean, as well as a photograph taken from Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘Moonstrips – General Dynamic F.U.N.’ (Ambit #33, 1967) on the other.

The concrete poem is an exploration of literary minimalism: comprised of less than a dozen different words, it attempts to depict the narrative of a girl’s journey into adulthood: her first kiss, her first love, first experience of oral sex, losing her virginity, first rift in a relationship, before eventual marriage and pregnancy, and seemingly settling into an affectionate relationship.

But how does this experimental poem coincide with the strange Mattisse-style figures below?

If you attach the poem to these figures, overlap them almost, some cohesion appears. If you ‘flesh out’ these various clusters of successive words, then a figure emerges from the poem: visualise hair where it reads ‘HAIR’ (‘HAIR’ is the only word to flow from column to column, perhaps showing how Ballard was trying here to use text to imitate flowing hair?); lips where it says ‘KISS’; breasts where it reads ‘SUCK’ (naughty naughty Ballard); vagina where it reads ‘FUCK’; anus where it reads ‘ANUS’; and then use the subjective terms ‘GIRL’ and ‘WIFE’ for the overarching image of the figure, then you can see how the text represents a larger abstract image of a figure, much like the ones below.

Ballard is thus expressing how this rigid, columnal series of words, when placed within a some codified, phonetic system, can take on artistic significance, and can be elevated to a work of art.


Also be sure to read Mike Holliday’s fascinating piece on Ballardian.com for even more about Ballard’s forays into advertising.


3 thoughts on “What is J. G. Ballard’s ‘Court Circular’?

    1. Figures, plural.. wow I think you’re right!! I was originally thinking there was just one figure hidden in the words in a way much like the smaller ones, but I think the poem is meant to be read as having a multitude of figures, so every person sees it differently!? That is something Ballard did frequently, empowered the viewer and urged them to express their own creativity… Thanks for that Kamus!

      Liked by 1 person

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