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Picot, James (Jim) (1906–1944)

by Patrick Buckridge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

James (Jim) Picot (1906-1944), poet and literary critic, was born on 15 April 1906 at Baldock, Hertfordshire, England, youngest of three children of James Picot, a Wesleyan minister from the Channel Islands, and his Parisian-born second wife Laure, née Ahier. Laure died two days after his birth. With seven children to raise (four from his first marriage), his father remarried. Educated at schools in Lancashire and Cornwall, and on Guernsey, by the age of 8 Jim had begun to read Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In 1923 he was sent to Queensland under an assisted-emigration scheme. He joined one of his brothers at Montrose, a farm near Goondiwindi, and obtained the first of a series of outback jobs which took him up and down the eastern States.

In 1928 Picot had a poem accepted by the Bulletin, and columns by the Melbourne Age and Brisbane Courier. A small legacy allowed him to move in 1930 to Brisbane, where he attended the Teachers' Training College while continuing to write stories, poems and articles. In 1931 he won the first of several literary prizes, ten guineas in a short story competition run by Stead's Review. He studied at the University of Queensland (B.A. Hons, 1936) and became friendly with F. W. Robinson, lecturer in English and modern languages, who recalled his bohemian 'peculiarities', such as attending lectures in dinner-jacket and sandshoes. Graduating with third-class honours in philosophy, he won a Freemasons' scholarship in 1936. Two years later he entered St Francis's (Anglican) Theological College. He left after six months, having decided that 'literature, not the priesthood, is my job'.

In Brisbane, Picot was befriended by Vance and Nettie Palmer, and by Vance's sister, the poet Emily Bulcock. Picot's poems were published in British magazines such as Poetry of Today and Poetry Review. He lectured on modern poetry—on the radio and for organizations like the Queensland Authors' and Artists' Association—and championed T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. His own poetry, a combination of experimentalism and archaism, was always intense, and often very powerful. In 1939 he befriended an older poet 'Brian Vrepont'; they gave a series of joint public recitations. Through Vrepont, Picot met Clem Christesen whom he urged to 'revive plans to publish a literary journal'. With Christesen, Vrepont and Paul Grano, he contributed to the first issue of Meanjin Papers in December 1940.

Picot enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 May 1941 and was posted to the 8th Division Signals. He was sent to Singapore in August, captured by the Japanese in February 1942 and interned at Changi. Forced to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway, he died of beriberi on 11 April 1944. His remains were later reburied in Kanburi war cemetery, Thailand. Tributes in Meanjin in 1953 praised him for rallying his fellow prisoners by his wit, learning and love of literature. A collection of his poetry, With A Hawk's Quill (Melbourne, 1953), was published posthumously.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Strahan, Just City and the Mirrors (Melb, 1984)
  • Catholic Readers and Writers Society (Brisbane), Vista, 1, no 2, 1946
  • Meanjin Quarterly, 12, no 4, 1953, 13, no 1, 1954
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 3 Mar 1955
  • Meanjin Archive, James Picot correspondence 1923-c1943 (University of Melbourne Library)
  • Picot papers, MS 6673 (National Library of Australia).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Patrick Buckridge, 'Picot, James (Jim) (1906–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/picot-james-jim-11391/text20353, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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