Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Writing on the margin from the margin: Who was Sinclair Beiles?

Gary Cummiskey

Gary Cummiskey

Gary Cummiskey, Michael Titlestad

Gary Cummiskey, Michael Titlestad

Fred de Vries

Fred de Vries

Eva Kowalska, Fred de Vries

Eva Kowalska, Fred de Vries

From left: Gary Cummiskey, Michael Titlestad, Eva Kowalska, Fred de Vries.

All photographs courtesy of Arja Salafranca

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sinclair Beiles, name-dropping, shame and self-hatred ( Paul Wessels)

we criticize in others that which we most fear in ourselves. The trueism comes, i think, from pirsig's gorgeous zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. perhaps it was freud he was paraphrasing, i don’t know, but i like it anyway. so i want to apply this to the charge of name-dropping. sinclair beiles is often accused of having been a name-dropper. most recently by stephen gray, who himself name-drops allen ginsberg. but that’s another story. here, i want to talk about what we fear in ourselves. we fear invoking the consequences (im-press by association) of a sign (big name) we feel we are simply unworthy of (or something like that). we feel unworthy. so stephen feels unworthy of associating himself with a god of the stature of allen ginsberg (even dylan bowed to ginsberg). but, because he fears the wrath of his own censure, he criticizes sinclair for name-dropping. and then, parapraxis: he namedrops allen ginsberg.

anyone who knows anything about allen ginsberg knows that he was a tireless promoter of kerouac, burroughs. his generosity of character lived long into his life and beyond it.

and here, i do not think it a valid issue to ask why belies was never promoted by ginsberg. well, perhaps the fact of the matter was that belies was not quite of the same stature as kerouac and burroughs. clearly he was not, or, clearly ginsberg felt he was not. who cares and who would like to criticize allen ginsberg for his own opinions? why didn’t you promote sinclair shamelessly? huh? now that’s the question. its noones fault, but certainly not ginsbergs, but you, you reading this, why didn’t you shout sinclairs name fro the rooftops – before he was dead!

the great dambudzo marechera got it right ages ago when he said that he was not a walking tribe. we need mediators, we need intercessors. without that, them, those, us, forget it.

the question we need to ask of ourselves, is this: why are we so terrified of promoting those we admire, like, respect, whatever you want to call it? perhaps sinclair would not have given into the black hole of madness, the infinite regress of madness (if only extreme neurosis) if he had promoters down here, earlier, before the lampposts and dustbins started making threatening gestures – or whatever his personal demons were. besides, writers are allowed to be difficult bastard pieces of shit. we owe them that much. we owe ourselves the generosity of spirit to namedrop the worthy. perhaps philip zhuwao may not have had to die in his little room in zimbabwe with his tens and tens of books piled behind the door if some of you reading this had perhaps passed his name along, and along with some buffalos, namedropped him in the twilight of his twenty odd years on this radioactive, cop-ridden planet as burroughs puts it. momentum, even if its only like aryan saying my name (paul wessels) out loud by writing it down. and only my reading that, my experiencing his generosity of spirit, got me to forget about myself long enough to forget about breaking my shin bone and severely dislocating my ankle; getting pneumonia whilst trying to recover; getting punched in the face with a pulmonary embolism and heart attack in quick succession, and to bother writing this, connecting with you who are reading here, right now. my demon lover, kathy acker, says that a book needs a reader to come alive, without the reader, it’s dead. she told me that all writers are orpheus looking for their eurydice. what applies to books applies to writers.

the great bessie head (who is not a feminist icon) said that she wrote because she had the authority from god to do so, that she was going to build a fucking ramp right up there to the stars. we wouldn’t know this, us who are gathered here, now, reading this if it weren’t for ntone edjabe.

aryan didn’t save my life by mentioning my name. but in a way he did, because he gave me the authority to share some stuff i’ve been wanting to share but didn’t know how to. turn it into fiction? write a confessional i feel so sorry for myself? what? how? send everyone i know an email? start a blog? maybe just start going backwards and inside out cause i’ve forgotten how to connect.promote your friends and those you admire.

i admire aryan kaganof.if i weren’t me, i’d like to be him.

john whiteside parsons got the description of those who fear or hate themselves right.

question is, what are you doing about it?

‘and man, self-castrated and self-frustrated, flees down the corridors of nightmares, pursued by monstrous machines, overwhelmed by satanic powers, haunted by vague guilt and terrors all created of his own imagination. he escapes into absurdity, drowns his spirit in pretence, worships tin gods of success. then, shamed by his pretenses and frustrated by his self-denial, he frenziedly projects his horror on imagined enemies, seeks release in scapegoats and false issues, and propitiates anthropoid gods, the blackened and shattered eidolons of his spirit, with sacrifices of blood.'

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Writing on the margin from the margin: Who was Sinclair Beiles?

Dye Hard Press, in conjunction with WISER, invite you to

Writing on the margin from the margin: Sinclair Beiles

Who was Sinclair Beiles?, a compilation of writings about the South African Beat poet who died in 2000, was recently published by Dye Hard Press.

Co-editors Gary Cummiskey and Eva Kowalska, along with contributor Fred de Vries, will discuss issues about the book, such as:

· Why has Sinclair Beiles’s work been neglected in South Africa?
· Why has there previously been no serious attempt to evaluate his work, and why has it fallen to a small publisher to make the first attempt at doing so?
· What are the challenges involved in trying to evaluate a marginalised writer such as Beiles?
· What is the purpose and relevance now, in 2009, in writing about Beiles?

The panel discussion will take place in the Seminar Room at WISER, 6th Floor, Richard Ward Building, East Campus, Wits University on Monday, 9 November 2009, at 18:30

Copies of Who was Sinclair Beiles? will be on sale at the event

Monday, October 26, 2009

Title page of Minutes to Go ( 1960)

Beiles's signature is conspicuously absent here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Title page of Deliria

Title page of Deliria, second edition published in 1995 by Small Spaces Press, Johannesburg, with inscription by Beiles.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stephen Gray and Sinclair Beiles: which is the real literary con man?

Stephen Gray, in his review of Who was Sinclair Beiles?, (Mail & Guardian, 07/09/09) implies that Sinclair was “some sort of impostor? A scam?” Gray’s egregious insinuation is further developed in the article: “In the classic accounts of the period, James Campbell’s The Beat Generation and Barry Miles’s The Beat Hotel, “our boy” merits only a footnote or two, and no listing of his works, if there were any, in the bibliographies.”... Read more here

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fred de Vries on Sinclair Beiles

I did not know my subject. Or more accurately: I’ve never consciously met Johannesburg poet Sinclair Beiles, who was born in Uganda in 1930 and died seventy years later in the Johannesburg General Hospital. I may have bumped into him in Yeoville in the mid-nineties, but I have no recollection of more here

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

William Burroughs interviewed by Kathy Acker - 1988

Burroughs mentions Sinclair Beiles a few times in the later part of this interview.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Interview with Gary Cummiskey and Eva Kowalska about Who was Sinclair Beiles? on Litnet

Interviewer Janet van Eeeden: I found Who Was Sinclair Beiles? a fascinating read. It was so interesting to read about Sinclair Beiles, someone I didn't know much about, from so many different perspectives. The interviews between Beiles and Gary Cummiskey and Beiles and dawie malan especially throw much light on the nature of the man himself. The essays by Cummiskey, malan, Earle Holmes, Alan Finlay, Eva Kowalska, George Dillon Slater and Fred de Vries serve to delve behind the man's words and give us a glimpse into a unique character. I'd be grateful if you answered a few of my questions about this enigmatic man....
Read more here

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two Sinclair Beiles poems, translated into Greek by Yannis Livadas


Υπάρχει ένας τρόπος να αυτοκτονήσεις
που λέγεται ποίηση
Υπάρχει ένας τρόπος να πάρεις ένα μαχαίρι
και να σκαλίσεις στο άπειρο τίποτα του ουρανού
ένα μοναχικό κελί
που μέσα του κάποιος περνά τη ζωή του κόβοντας βόλτες
πετώντας περιστασιακά μηνύματα...

Read more here

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Berold on Beiles

Poet Robert Berold writes about Who Was Sinclair Beiles?:

I thought the Beiles book was excellent - nice balance of interviews and essays, thorough bibliography, well edited, good design, readable and inviting. And as far as I know the first non-academic book about poetry to appear in South Africa for years (ever?). Definitely not a booklet as Stephen Gray called it in his M&G non-review. I wish all our poets got such attentive treatment.

It's sad that Beiles's work and his mental state went kind of downhill. But he did write some good poems -the best of them of full of startling images, going off on tangents in interesting ways. An aesthetic that no other South African was doing. And he wrote about his madness with courage and humour.

I had a few meetings with him, and like everyone else, had to deal with his erratic attitude (which started with his proclaiming me a great poet and degenerated over time to the death threat 'by spells' quoted in Dawie Malan's essay).

Once when I was visiting him, he said "Would you like a suitcase?" and produced a very battered very heavy leather suitcase. Which my computer monitor now sits on - so I live with a reminder of Beiles every day.

Perhaps in his later years, his real creation was a character called Sinclair Beiles. But I hope Dye Hard will prove there was also a poet called Sinclair Beiles by publishing a 'best of' selection.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Kaganof on Who was Sinclair Beiles?

eventually one has to love gary cummiskey. he does not give up. he’s the kind of irascible soul that always draws trouble. something about his pugnacious nature attracts difficulties. if it can go wrong at a printer it will. twice. gary’s often stuck in traffic. the waiter dusts more flies into his soup. but unlike most people you’ve ever met who share this streak of disaster-attraction - cummiskey hasn’t got it in him to throw in the towel. you would have thought after years of publishing small press editions to little or no acclaim from the precarious south african literature “establishment” that gary would see the light and stop bothering. thank the gods he’s not that sort of bloke. gary persists. his persistency is the stuff of local literary legend.

green dragon 6 is the best edition of his literary journal to date. and this volume about the late yeoville beat poet sinclair beiles is worth its weight in genetically modified stem cells. it keeps beiles alive. a collection of essays by the likes of alan finlay, fred devries, co-editor eva kowalska and gary himself, the book sheds shards of splintered, diffused and hazy light on the figure of beiles whose reputation is based largely on memories of his surly frame sitting truculently outside coffee society in rockey street, chain smoking irritably - has anyone ever read any of his poems?

in yeoville in 1994 to film nice to meet you, please don’t rape me i was introduced to beiles by my co-screenwriter peter j. morris, himself an equally taciturn, sour-bellied type. the two of them found things to grumble about. it was impossible for me to talk to beiles. he just seemed too far gone in a vinegary disposition exacerbated by the brutal disappointment of never having ‘made it’ (whatever that means to a poet). but this volume opens the man up. dawie malan’s exquisite essay “the trouble with sinclair beiles” resuscitates the poet, gives him a fragile, vulnerable soul - and reveals librarian dawie to be one of our most sensitive writers.

this book is essential. one day somebody will be collating a set of essays asking the question “who is gary cummiskey?”he deserves better. he deserves to be lionised now.

First published here

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Visit to the Jung Library in Switzerland

Editors' introduction to Who was Sinclair Beiles?

The idea for Who was Sinclair Beiles? originated in early 2008, after an edited version of an interview I had conducted with Beiles in 1994 was finally published in the literary journal New Coin. I had intended to put together a small number of previously published pieces about Beiles that had been written by Alan Finlay, dawie malan and myself – the latter two had been written for a feature on Beiles published on the donga website (now offline) that challenged his exclusion from the South African literary canon. However I did not feel these would be enough to create a bound book. On the other hand I did not wish to publish about 300 pages of contributions about ‘crazy Sinclair’, with an emphasis on his erratic behaviour as a result of his mental illness, although I realised it would be impossible not write about Beiles’s illness, because it was intrinsic to his work. Instead I wanted a compilation of writings that focused mainly on Beiles as a poet by people who had met him and/or respected his work.

In biographies of the major American Beat writers, such as William Burroughs or Allen Ginsberg, Beiles is often given a mere walk-on part. For example, in Barry Miles’s detailed The Beat Hotel, more attention is given to writers who were not even involved in the Minutes to Go collaboration. Thus Beiles is represented as, to use Joyce Johnson’s phrase, a minor character. Even in South Africa his work is almost totally ignored, and it is hoped this book will lead to some serious consideration of Beiles the poet.

Who was Sinclair Beiles? is not a biography, nor does it pretend to be an authoritative work about him. It is intended rather as a tribute, and was produced while keeping both financial and time constraints in mind. When I invited Eva Kowalska – who is completing her Master’s degree on Beiles’s work – to come on board as co-editor, she, like myself, was restricted by the demands of a fulltime job and other responsibilities. So, with a few exceptions, we opted to use previously published or readily available material.

The first part consists of memoirs about, and interviews with, Beiles by malan, Earle Holmes, George Dillon Slater and myself. In the second part of the book, Kowalska examines Beiles’s poetry with an emphasis on his relationship to the American Beat poets, while in a review of the Beat Hotel Exhibition in Johannesburg, Finlay provides a snapshot of Beiles in the Rockey Street milieu in the mid-1990s. Fred de Vries, who is working on a biography of Beiles, describes some of his journeys and interviews in Africa, England and Europe as part of his research. Lastly, we examine some of the reasons for Beiles’s relative obscurity and provide a bibliography of his publications.

There is some overlap in the book, particularly in the interviews. Editorial cuts have however been kept to a minimum.

Gary Cummiskey

My experience of undertaking a study of Sinclair Beiles’s writing has been frustratingly, but intriguingly, devoid of much useful secondary material. There is very little information available about Beiles, much less so about his work. Many people know of him, though not really about him, and, aside from a handful of reviews of his earlier collections, notably Ashes of Experience, he seems to have become a name without a presence in South African literary culture. This is
unfortunate, because in addition to a colourful reputation Beiles left behind a considerable amount of poetry and plays. Though admittedly it is uneven in quality, I have found his writing to be innovative, humorous, and genuine. Though he is remembered primarily as a poet, his plays and dramatic fragments, a handful of which were staged during his lifetime, reveal a versatile writer with a talent for satire and an unusual outlook which remains interesting beyond its original context.

My involvement in this project came as a result of perceiving a lack of material on Beiles, be it factual biography or any real consideration of his work. I see Who was Sinclair Beiles? as an opportunity to do something towards remedying that gap. Secondly, it was out of a desire to assert Beiles as a poet worth considering, remembering, studying, writing about – someone who should not continue to be left out of our conceptualisation of South African and/ or Beat literature.

Rather than being a complete summary of Beiles as a person and a poet, which would be impossible, or a thorough appraisal of his life and his writing, which would be a vast and entangled project, I hope that this book is a start in the right direction. I hope that it will encourage others to reinvestigate Beiles’s writing, and that it might be useful to them in doing so. I feel that it goes some way towards establishing the worth of a poet who has been almost systematically ignored on his home ground. Through the previously published texts and new perspectives offered it might provide a context or a framework for understanding and appreciating a writer who has long been preceded by his reputation to the detriment of knowledge and appreciation of his art.

Eva Kowalska

A cup of coffee with Sinclair Beiles

It is a rainy afternoon and I am sitting at Times Square Restaurant in Yeoville together with Sinclair Beiles, South Africa's very own beat poet, who has just walked in out of the rain, carrying his umbrella. Sinclair has just turned seventy. Since 1959 he has had 25 books and 8 plays published and has one festival held in his honour - "Sinclair Beiles at the Beat Hotel - and he is also a candidate for the Nobel Prize for poetry (at the time of this interview around 2000)...Read more here

Send a bushman...

Credit: University of South Africa library archives, manuscript collection number 143

Keeping the Bicycle Away

Credit: University of South Africa library archives, manuscript collection number 143

Monday, August 3, 2009

Who was Sinclair Beiles? is an amazing book...

Who was Sinclair Beiles? is an amazing book, something like a reportage, concise biography with extra interviews. It is written with objectivity but also with real respect for this, so peculiar, poet - from writers with exceptional attributes. It brings the Beiles case in the limelight with an excellent way, the way dawn changes its colours leading to the golden light of day….

Yannis Livadas, Greek poet,editor and translator

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

A collage by Sinclair Beiles

Courtesy of Sarah Hills. The collage was received from Beiles when Hills and Christo Doherty were co-editing the first and sadly only issue of Porno Literature, in which Beiles had two poems published, in 1989.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sinclair Beiles with William Plomer, 1969

Sinclair Beiles receveing a medallion from William Plomer for the first Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize in 1969 for his first collection, Ashes of Experience.

Who was Sinclair Beiles? - soon available in bookstores throughout South Africa

New publication from Dye Hard Press: Who was Sinclair Beiles?

Who was Sinclair Beiles?
edited by Gary Cummiskey and Eva Kowalska

In 1960, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin and Sinclair Beiles collaborated on the now legendary collection of cut-ups, Minutes to Go. Readers of Beat literature know of Burroughs, Corso and Gysin, but who was Sinclair Beiles?

Sinclair Beiles was a South African poet and playwright, born in Uganda in 1930. He moved to Paris during the 1950s, where for a time he was an editor at Olympia Press and a resident at the Beat Hotel. He later spent several years in Greece and his first poetry collection, Ashes of Experience, won the first Ingrid Jonker poetry prize in 1969. Many other collections followed, published either overseas or in South Africa, to where he returned in the late 1970s. Beiles died, generally ignored by the mainstream South African poetry anthologies, in Johannesburg in 2000.

Who was Sinclair Beiles? brings together a collection of interviews, memoirs and essays about Beiles and his work by Gary Cummiskey, dawie malan, George Dillon Slater, Earle Holmes, Eva Kowalska, Alan Finlay and Fred de Vries.

The book also includes previously unpublished photographs of Sinclair Beiles. Perfect bound, 136 pages. Beiles's work is in danger of sliding into obscurity forever, and it is time for a renewed assessment of his contribution to South African literature.

Who was Sinclair Beiles? will soon be available at bookstores throughout South Africa, estimated retail price R160. If purchased directly from the publisher, the price is R100, including postage (South Africa).

E-mail for more order details.