Continuing our celebration of National Poetry Month, here are some words about South African poet Sinclair Beiles: Beiles was associated at-a-distance with the Beat Generation, but you have to get a little deeper into their mythology before you find his mark. Beiles was primarily a surrealist poet who was also known for his collaborations with the Greek artist Takis. Here’s the breakdown from the Wiki…
Sinclair Beiles (b. Kampala, Uganda, 1930 – 2000, Johannesburg) was a South African beat poet and editor for Maurice Girodias at the Olympia Press in Paris. He developed along with William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin the cut-up technique of writing poetry and literature.
Beiles was involved with American beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Brion Gysin, and Burroughs at the legendary Beat Hotel in Paris. The photographer Harold Chapman recorded this period in his book The Beat Hotel (Gris Banal, 1984). He co-authored Minutes to Go with Burroughs, Gysin and Corso (Two Cities Editions, 1960). Beiles helped edit Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.
He worked with the Greek artist Takis and read his magnetic manifesto — “I am a sculpture… I would like to see all nuclear bombs on Earth turned into sculptures”—in 1962 in Paris at the Iris Clert Gallery. At this event he was famously suspended in mid-air by a magnetic field from a powerful magnet in a sculpture developed by Takis. Beiles attributed his subsequent mental instability to this experience even though he insisted that Takis provide him with a helmet to protect his head from the magnetic field.
There is a sense of the “overlooked artist” surrounding Beiles and every now and then I come across another article, post or comment arguing that the writer deserves a higher place in the post-war pantheon. This post was inspired by this recent remembering of the poet (Beiles died in 2000) at Empty Mirror…
Gerard Bellaart is a legendary small-press publisher in France and was Sinclair Beiles’s publisher in the 1970s, with his Cold Turkey Press. I asked him how Beiles should be remembered. He replies that Beiles work is “of the calibre of Celan”, the famed French surrealist poet, but doubts that his reputation will rise anytime soon. “Beiles’ oeuvre as a whole has been neglected (read: ignored),” says Bellaart. He says that:
Literary market forces thought it more profitable to hail Burroughs and Gysin as the founding fathers of the ‘cut-up’. Neither had either the culture or background to recognise the principle of cut-up inherent, say in Mallarmé’s “Coup de Dés”, and in Baudelaire’s essay on de Quincy’s definition of Palimpsest for that matter. Sinclair Beiles of course knew these works by heart and in French.
Furthermore, he believes that Beiles was an originator, and should be recognized as such. He continues:
It was Sinclair Beiles who first developed the technique of using a layer of text as a transparent entity, the superimposition of which would create an entirely new and unpredictable context. The further appropriations of the technique by Burroughs and Gysin we do not need go into at this point.
Here is Beiles in a long interview about his adventures with Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs…