The writer, poet and musician Boris Vian (1920–59) was an almost exact contemporary of Boullet, and their irreverent outlook on life brought them together in several projects, including Vian’s 1947 novel J’irai cracher sur vos tombes (I Spit on Your Graves), a thriller which was originally described as a translation from a fictitious American writer, Vernon Sullivan, and Barnum’s Digest a year later.

Like J’irai cracher sur vos tombesBarnum’s Digest is presented as a translation ‘from the American’, but it isn’t. The full title is Barnum’s Digest, 10 monstres fabriqués par Jean Boullet et traduits de l’américain par Boris Vian (Barnum's Digest, 10 Monsters Created by Jean Boullet and Translated from the American by Boris Vian). The ten highly original risqué poems are dedicated to the singer Martine ‘Barnum’ Carol, with whom Vian played jazz during the 1940s; incidentally it was also in 1948 that Vian’s daughter Carole was born.

Boris Vian in 1947

It is not clear whether Vian’s poems in Barnum’s Digest or Boullet’s drawings came first; the general consensus is that the drawings were the inspiration for the verses. The ten ‘monsters’ include a mermaid with frogs’ legs, a gay couple literally joined at the hip, a bearded cat-woman, and a hermaphrodite for whom this poem is written:

A double entrée

Il y a de multiples distractions de societé
On peut se tenir par le main, les regards croisés,
Et se tirer la barbichette le moment venu.
On peut les faire asseoir sur sesgenoux,les yeux bandés
Et elles vous reconnaisant à votre pipe dans votre poche.
On pourrait faire une liste très longe
Depuis touche-pipi jusqu’au jeu des sardines
En passant par la langue étrangère et le jeu
De chacun son trou, trou commun, trou du voisin.
Ce serait fastidieux et pas nouveau.

C’est bien plus spiritual de prenre des pinceaux
Et de passer au goudron un immense tapis persan,
Puis de couper une homme en tout petits morceau,
De couper une femme en tout petits morceaux
Et de faire un hermaphrodite
Avec les tout petits morceaux judicieusement assemblés.

Le goudron, c’était pour ne pas abimer le tapis
Qui serait mouillé par le sang.

Double entry

There are many distractions from society,
We can hold hands, cross our eyes,
Pull our goatee at the appropriate moment.
We can sit on someone's knees blindfolded,
And they will recognise us by the pipe in our pocket.
We could make a very long list,
From check-pee-pee to the game of sardines,
Ideas from foreign languages and pastimes,
To each our own hole, our holes in common, our neighbour’s hole.
That would be tedious and be nothing new.

It’s much more spiritual to take a brush
And tarpaper over a huge Persian rug,
Then to cut a man into tiny pieces,
To cut a woman into tiny pieces,
And make a hermaphrodite
With the minuscule pieces judiciously reassembled.

The tarpaper was to avoid damaging the carpet,
Which would have become wet with blood.

Barnum’s Digest was published by Éditions Aux Deux Menteurs, 68, avenue d’Italie, Paris in 1948, in a limited edition of 250 copies.