‘Who was Sinclair Beiles?’

Good question. It’s the title of a new book, just published in South Africa by Dye Hard Press. Although Sinclair Beiles was a prolific poet, novelist, and playwright, “there is very little information available” about him and even less about his work, co-editor Gary Cummiskey writes in the introduction.

Beiles is best known for his association with the Beats. He collaborated on Minutes to Go with William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Gregory Corso, and helped to shepherd Burroughs’ manuscript of Naked Lunch into print at the Paris-based Olympia Press, where Beiles worked as an editor.

Born in Kampala, Uganda, and raised in Johannesburg, he spent many years scraping by in London, Tangier, Paris, and Athens, at various times committing himself to hospitals to deal with his fragile mental health. He eventually returned to South Africa, where he died in 2000 at age 70. His first published book was a novel, The White-Hearted Nigger. His porno fiction, Houses of Joy, written under the name Wu Wu Ming, was published in 1959 by Olympia Press for its under-the-counter trade.

Who was Sinclair Beiles? consists largely of interviews, essays, and reminiscences by several friends and writers who knew him. Beiles had a sardonic, even savage, sense of humor. Here’s one tale:

[I]n Athens, he announced himself to be The Official State Eulogist for the Dictator, George Papadopoulous, to a crowd of amused duty cops in the Plaka Police Station. They gave him a room and a typewriter to begin writing his Official Eulogies. Gradually, he began sleeping there too, and having pots of tea delivered by jail trustees. In his laudatory works he praised the Dictator for his inspirations, particularly for his plan to build a hotel on the Acropolis.

Aristophanes would have enjoyed the joke. The book also prints some of Beiles’s poems. Here’s an excerpt. It shows a different side of him:

there is a way of committing suicide
called poetry
there is a way of taking a knife
and carving from the infinite nothingness of the sky
a solitary cell
in which one spends a lifetime pacing about
occasionally shouting messages
through the barred cell window
at different passers by.
there is a way of trying to create a universe
with all its constellations
from the view of people scurrying by
in the rain with their umbrellas up,
a way of ruling a nation of shadows.
there is a way of imagining
one possesses all the secrets of the soul
and this gift will provide one with freedom,
a way of imagining all the sights
not yet photographed by the travel agencies
there is a way of believing
one has special dreams …

Many years ago, in VDRSVP, I published a story by Beiles called “Collectors Corner.” He wrote it with his girlfriend Annie Rooney during the Vietnam War. The story began this way: “It has long been a maxim of the very rich that when you have everything else you then start collecting dead Vietnamese.” You can listen to it in a radio broadcast recorded on KPFA-FM, Berkeley, in 1970.

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