Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beiles's Sacred Fix and other hits on auction in New York, by Mike Alfred

Sinclair Beiles, South Africa's own Beat poet, believes that when Paul Getty bought a first-edition Chaucer and Harry Oppenheimer bought the manuscript of Cry, The Beloved Country for large sums, such purchases marked a growing interest in the commercial exchange of literary memorabilia.

Beiles has just been invited to submit items to be included in a Sotheby's New York auction of Beat poets' original renderings and associated objects. The sale is scheduled for October 6 and according to Beiles is likely to signal the upsurge of a spate of millenial interest in the authors of the 20th century. "I think people are getting tired of bidding for furntiture," ventures Beiles.

Apparently not all that appreciated in South Africa, land of Beiles's birth and education at King Edward high school and Wits university, he is better known and recognised for his work in Europe where he associated with such notables as William Burroughs, Harold Norse and Allen Ginsberg. 

Indeed, it is Bill Morgan, the archvist of the Allen Ginsberg Trust, who has invited Beiles to submit items for sale in association with other well-known Beat poets. Beiles observes that while his work features in the "Whitney Museum's handsome book on the Beats",  his contribution has been ignored by the compilers of A Century of South African Poetry.

Among the items Beiles is submitting is his critically acclaimed Sacred Fix, published by Cold Turkey Press, Rotterdam, 1975. Also to appear is his current favourite, Springtime at Raubenheimer's, a limited edition of short, humorous poems published last November.

Sotheby's has placed a $1 000 reserve on each lot and Beiles is submitting a number hopefully calculated to alleviate the cliched plight of the impecunious poet.

Beiles asserts that it is high time poetry was recognised as offering some genuine financial worth.

(Published in The Sunday Independent, July 25 1999)

Glad of my Fever

A poem card published in a limited edition by Cold Turkey Press, France

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beiles collection published in USA, by Percy Baneshik

The poet most markedly without honour in his own country, Sinclair Beiles, has once again demonstrated that, as prophets go, he is distinctly not without honour in the outer world.

This time the recognition comes in the shape of a new book, published by Lapis Press in Venice, California, rounding up a selection of his verses over several decades.

Though the volume bears a somewhat uninspiring title, A South African Abroad, it comes with a resounding accolade from the publishers, who happen to be of a particularly selective frame of mind in their publishing. They specialise in publishing contemporary poetry by leading poets of the day.

The foreward to the book is contributed by Nanos Valaoritis, professor of world literature at San Francisco State University.

Why the rather flat title? Certainly the poetry is a reflection of Beiles's sojourns abroad in countries ranging from Greece to Spain, Italy, Tangier and a few other areas of reflective wanderering. But the title is a sort of poetic inversion.

In Valaoritis's lengthy introduction, the inversion becomes clear."Sinclair", says Valaoritis, "takes the South African experience as a springboard to symbolise all oppression, all persecution, all bad taste,all flattening-out uniformity, and all monsterous brain-washing..."

The professor categorises the Johannesburg poet as "an internal exile in South Africa", speaking of  "the taste of euphoric exile in all of his poems" which derive from his wanderings, "always de passage from one place to another".

Valaoritis cites Beiles's "political moments", declaring downrightly "I wouldn't say Sinclair is a hero like Breytenbach... but he is, in his best moments, as good a poet..."

In light of this assessment, appearance of the collection in California strikes a special note. It underscores the fact that, strangely, Beiles has never been included in an anthology of South African poetry.

He has won prizes like the Ingrid Jonker Memorial Award, the William Plomer Award and the Lord Byron Award, a prize handed out by the French Friends of Lord Byron Poetry Society, which Beiles won for his 1976 collection, Sacred Fix. Other recipients of this award have been TS Eliot and Robert Graves.

But election to a locally compiled anthology of poetry has eluded him.

He has wondered about this, pointing out that publication in local anthologies is the most important way of getting known by students, who are the main readers of poetry.

The new collection, A South African Abroad, culled from volumes Beiles has brought out in South Africa over the years ... will be published by Lapis Press...Priced in the US  at $12,95 (approx R33). It will be avaulable in bookstores in South Africa soon.

(Published in The Star, February 14, 1991)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Following the flight path of the poet's imagination: Robert Berold's review of A South African Abroad

Sinclair Beiles grew up in South Africa and went into exile in his 20s. By 1958, aged 28, he was in the midst of the international avant-garde, working for the Olympia Press in Paris, living in the famous Beat Hotel, collaborating on the cut-up work Minutes To Go with William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Gregory Corso. In the 1960s he migrated to Greece and Tangiers: by all accounts one of the proto-hippies.

In 1969 Beiles's first collection of poetry, Ashes of Experience, was published in Souh Africa by Wurm. Five more books followed. Beiles returned from exile a few years ago and now lives in Johannesburg, where he is active in poetry readings and poetry/jazz performances.

This selection, elegantly produced by Lapis Press, is a mark of the international recognition that Beiles has received. It also begs the question why his work does not appear in any of the standard anthologies of South African verse. Could it be that South Africa is not ready for his knd of pransker surrealism?

This is not the kind of poetry we are used to, but that does not make Beiles a bad poet. The poems in A South African Abroad are literate and readable explosions. They are poems with a sense of humour - even better,a  sense of fun. They work through a loose surrealism, like playfulness reminiscent of French poets like Cendrars or Michaux.

It may seem that the poems go off on tangents which go off on further tangents until the subject is lost.  To look at them this way is to misread them. The real subect is the flight path of the poem's energy ( the aeroplane image is the poet's):

My condition is lamentable - to me anyway.
I keep a kind of old flying machine stability
On a cupboard full of drugs
And as I fly through the day
I can hear my nerves creaking...
If some small magazine editor happens to
drop into your office
Or into your soup in the form of a fly when
You eat at
The arts laboratory
Perhaps you can pull out this work for his
Tell him I have terrible dreams.
(from 'Terrible Dreams')
Admittedly whem this type of poetry doesn't take off, it crashes: as in the rhymed poems about the crucifixion. But most of the time it is full of unexpected pleasures:
You can meet someone on the train
And forget about your brokenheartedness.
Now affairs on trains are permissible.
But they will break up.
There's either not enough money to pay for the fare
Or not enough love.
"Goodbye lost love alone on the railway station!"
Maybe you'll die on the railway station
Like Tolstoy clutching an icon.
Or maybe you'll start another affair
Perhaps with a farmer who's come to collect
A prize cow from the goods train.
Life on a farm is not too bad.
There are no traffic lights but there are compensations.
Both the railways and God help the brokenhearted.
See the view from the train window!
Poppies!Yellow grass!
(from 'Brokenhearted Travellers')  
A South African Abroad, despite its title, has almost nothing in its content identifiably South African. But there is something about its style - naive recklessness, joller instinct - which is distinctly of this country. In this Beiles is as tuned in to the mind of South Africa as many a poet of irony or outrage. A selection of his work needs to be republished here, especially since the imported price of this book, about R50, is prohibitively expensive.
(Published in The Weekly Mail, 27 September 1991) 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The passing of a poet: an obituary for Sinclair Beiles, by Shaun de Waal

Sinclair Beiles, who died on November 3 [2000] at the age of 70 in Johannesburg Hospital, was one of South Africa’s more unusual and often underrated poets. He was the first winner of the Ingrid Jonker Memorial Prize for poetry in 1970, but in later years was reduced to photocopying his poetry and plays and donating them to libraries to ensure, as he put it, that they would go on record.

Beiles was born in Kampala, Uganda, and educated in South Africa. During the 1950s and 1960s he travelled the world, establishing links with the beat generation of writers, particularly William Burroughs. He collaborated with Burroughs and artist Brion Gysin on early experiments with cut-ups – work in which the text was chopped up and then reassembled semi-randomly. The results of their first experiments were published as Minutes to Go. Burroughs continued to use this technique throughout the Sixties. Beiles also worked with Burroughs on the composition of Naked Lunch, in Tangier in the late Fifties, along with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, and helped get it published by Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press in Paris (where Beiles later stayed in the famous “beat hotel” along with Burroughs and Gysin). Naked Lunch went on to become one of the most influential texts of the Sixties counterculture and subsequently post-modern literature in general.

Beiles’s own poetry made less use of an intentional cut-up technique, but reflected a lack of concern with traditional poetic virtues, relying instead on raw energy and an immediate unedited apprehension of the poet’s reality. Beiles’s 1969 volume, Ashes of Experience, was his first substantial publication, written largely during a stay in Greece.

Beiles returned to South Africa in the Seventies and became a fixture of the Yeoville demi-monde in the Eighties. He often performed his poetry live, at venues such as the Black Sun, and was memorialised in Anton Kotze’s documentary Sacred Fix. He continued to write prolifically until his death. Among his later publications were the plays in verse, The Needle Vestel and Three Plays: Picasso as told by Max Jacob, and the poetry collections The Golden Years and Aardvark City. His selected poems were published in the US under the title A South African Abroad.

‘The Beats are traditional writers,’ said Beiles, ‘and among our tradition I am the only one who has chosen Chaucer as my model. Like Chaucer I am both classical and spontaneous. My role is as a pure poet. I don’t do anything but poeticise.’

He was buried on November 7 in West Park cemetery.

(Published in Mail & Guardian, November 10 2000)