In his excellent book Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour, Liam Clancy describes, among other things, his life as a young actor and ballad singer in New York in the early 1960s. At one point he tells how, one night at a party, someone had the idea that everyone should write a word or words on little pieces of cardboard, which they placed in a large paper bag. They then took turns at pulling out words and stringing them together.
After a month or so Clancy and his flatmates had transferred the words to a box, and were using it as a device for divination – i.e. asking questions and extracting sequences of words as ‘answers’. His girlfriend, Tina, always seemed to produce articulate and meaningful answers.
This use of ‘the Box’ lasted two years, and they became so obsessed with it that none of them would leave the house till it had been consulted. Eventually they started asking it for poems and, over a period of a year, received ‘a volume of poetry … with such intense imagery that it really did frighten me’. Clancy says, ‘Perhaps the most frightening piece of poetry, and the main reason why we destroyed the Box, came towards the end of our psychic adventures.’ This was it:
That night out there I saw your face
Where I knew it could not be.
And then I knew
That the thin threads
That hold the mind together had been worn through.
Will your wild face drive me to such insanity
That I go planting scarlet flowers
In the furrows of the sea?