in conversation with John Wisniewski
JW: You had a variety of jobs over the years while getting on with your writing. Could you tell us about some of them, maybe a few that you enjoyed doing?
EW: I wholeheartedly agree with André Gide’s dictum, “All work that is not joyous is wretched.” And while the word ‘enjoy’ may not apply to my time in the Air Force, I still got a lot out of those four years, about which I’ll be writing in one of my future memoirs. It’s a given that I grooved on journalism. Some of that is covered in my most recent book, Tennessee Williams in Bangkok. And I am now encouraging Stanford University to obtain copies of all the pieces I wrote for the Bangkok Post so they can go into my archive there. We can forget the Tehran Journal (I was their sports and night editor in the mid-1970s), as that paper got buried after the 1979 Islamic revolution. I dug being a short-order cook and had the best teacher, namely my father! Programming first-generation IBM computers for two years was all right, until they started to bore me and I quit. Selling encyclopedias was a gas. Did that throughout the latter part of the Sixties, made good money, got to travel around Germany and France, then out to the Far East (where another life began for me). Managing a steakhouse in Hong Kong was cool. Ditto a few other gigs. It would never have crossed my mind to toil in a factory or on a farm. I’m a dunce when it comes to any kind of manual labor. All I’m good at with my hands are eating, writing, and sex.
JW: When did you meet Tennessee Williams and what was your impression of him when you met?
EW: I first met Williams through his writings. Mainly the plays, though I’d also read his poetry and the novel The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he was my kind of writer. Someone who relates deeply to the human condition and knows how to portray it with words. Then in 1970 I had the great good fortune of meeting him in person. I tell about how and where at the beginning of my Bangkok book. A press conference hosted by the Oriental Hotel that the newspaper’s feature’s editor assigned me to cover. What can I say? I liked the guy, found him simpatico. So after the conference my friend Harry Rolnick and I asked Tennessee if he’d like us to show him ‘underground Bangkok,’ by which we meant the gay bars. The prospect delighted him, off we went, and in no time flat Tom (Tennessee) and I were hanging out together. It’s all in the book. As is a quasi-surreal play I wrote describing the conference that subsequently appeared on the front page of the paper’s Sunday Magazine.
EW: I launched the magazine, together with Jane Harvey, in the spring of 1978. I say ‘launched’ because the notion to do a publication was someone else’s, a travel agent. He wanted an events mag along the lines of London’s Time Out. We wanted literary and international, so that’s what we did. I’d told him I wasn’t his man, but he refused to listen. After three issues Jane and I stashed the files and hit the road, ending up in Barcelona for the winter. By early February I was back in Amsterdam and picking up the threads. Jane followed a couple of months later. We founded Ins & Outs Press in January 1980, produced a big fourth issue that summer, and started publishing other stuff (books, postcards, audio cassettes, silkscreen prints, etc). The press still exists, in a low-key sort of way. The entire story is related in A Brief History of Ins & Outs Press. It’s online at Exquisite Corpse. The list of people who appeared in the magazine is long and rich. Some of the more prominent names are Allen Ginsberg, Paul Bowles, Charles Henri Ford, Ira Cohen, Gerard Malanga, Bob Kaufman, Heathcote Williams, Jack Hirschman, William Levy, Jack Micheline, Harold Norse, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, et cetera and so forth.
JW: Why did you go into seclusion for five years from 1987?
EW: I’ve always had a bit of the monk in me, and still do. In the early 1970s I spent three months in a Buddhist hermitage (on a jungle island in Ceylon) and came close to staying. During the 1980s I frequently vanished from public view. I’d be up all night writing, go whoring at the crack of dawn, sleep till late afternoon, and keep my poetry performances to a minimum. Though okay, what you’re asking about was different. I was in a particularly difficult relationship (nothing new there!). Financial concerns were pressing down on me. My dog guru Snuffie died in March ’87, leaving me rudderless for a spell. I had a run of health problems which damn near killed me. Gout, shingles, rotting teeth and bleeding gums. Thin all my life, I suddenly grew enormously fat. My psyche was being bombarded, I couldn’t think straight anymore. The demons I was fighting were on the verge of winning. I continued to write and conduct business, but God knows how. One day I stared horrified at a mirror, looked deep into my soul, and said ‘Fuck this, your body comes first!’ Went on a crash diet and lost 80 pounds in just over nine weeks. I celebrated by getting a full set of dentures and dressing up in the clothes my ex-girlfriend left behind, black net stockings and all. Never mind that I was belly-up bankrupt and would soon lose the Ins & Outs ’empire building.’ I had my life back!
JW: You attempted suicide once. There’s a passing reference to it in your poems cycle book Tsunami of Love. When was that, what brought you to it, and how close did you come to succeeding?
EW: July 20th 1994. It was on account of a woman. A sex goddess and an exceptionally talented painter. I am absolutely not blaming her. Or myself. I simply snapped. We’d met eight months earlier, to the day. In a café on her 35th birthday. She was there with her ex-husband, her cigarette kept going out and I kept relighting it. Shortly after midnight she phoned and said: “I don’t think our evening is finished yet. Take a taxi to me, I’ll pay the fare.” It was like a dream. When she came dance tripping out of the house in a flowing white nightdress, her lovely hair long and golden, I felt as though I’d become part of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
Inside there was candlelight, soft music, and wine. The bed was in plain view behind a diaphanous lace curtain. I fell madly in love. Four months later her house caught fire and we nearly died. Her paintings burned, her materials, everything. Somehow I managed to save us but not her cat. After that I was in a vulnerable state, constantly on edge. I still had the garret flat above the brothel that I’d moved back into when I lost the Ins & Outs building, but was mainly living with her and the ex in an apartment a friend of theirs loaned us. On the day in question we had a party…the lady and I, the ex, the friend and her boyfriend. It started early, we drank gallons of wine, and at a certain point the conversation became unbearable. A cacophony of babble that was tearing my head apart. She’d gone to get more wine, I ran up to her on the street, kissed her goodbye, and hopped on a bus to my place. Where I washed down a few dozen powerful sleeping pills with yet another bottle of wine. (The pills were prescribed, for normal use!) Scrawled ‘And I Loved You So Much’ on the wall over a triptych of semi-nude photos of her (that she’d given me for my birthday), and lay down to sleep forever. Or so I thought!
Eventually the lady sensed what was up. Gave the ex her spare set of my keys and said: “Go quick, Eddie’s done something stupid!” Did I really curse the ambulance crew out in fluent Dutch as they struggled to carry me down the stairs past the astonished hookers? I was unconscious for 40 hours. Which didn’t prevent me from knocking a hospital medic to the floor (I apologized profusely before getting discharged) and punching a psychiatrist in the nose (he went on holiday immediately!). They wanted to pump my stomach, but I was fighting them tooth and nail. Then someone got the bright idea to sedate me. Oops, my heart stopped beating. So they hit me with a shot of adrenaline. When I awoke I was in restraints with a guard standing by and a catheter in my cock. Jane was there (the lady had phoned her). And my friend Peter Edel, taking photographs. A former lover rang from the Bahamas to say, “Better luck next time. Just kidding!” The lady was terribly angry, as she had every right to be. You don’t do shit like that to people who love you. Euthanasia is one thing, but meaningless suicide is a sin. Ultimately she forgave me. Our affair continued in stops and starts until I temporarily swapped Amsterdam for Devon and the anti-heroine of Tsunami of Love. Thank God we’re still friends. Let’s face it, I was an asshole.
Word of advice. If you’re gonna do it, avoid employing violent means. Hanging, bullet to the brain, jumping in front of a train or off a tall building, any of that ugh jazz. They totally suck. As does pain. With all respect to Dylan Thomas, go as gently as possible into that good night. Death is a momentous transition, don’t muck with it. Traditionalist to the core, Yukio Mishima chose seppuku. Brave, heroic? Nay, abhorrent! The eminently sane Arthur Koestler (and his wife Cynthia) opted for my route. Sylvia Plath? Maybe she dug the smell of gas.
Such a striking face;
No wonder Ted fell for her.
Goddamn that oven!
JW: What was your evaluation of the One World Poetry Festival held in 1978? What was your opinion of the poetry that you heard?
EW: P78’s closing night was magical. It went down in Paradiso, an erstwhile church turned rock ‘n roll palace. Got underway around mid-evening and kept going until gone daybreak. All the performers were magnificent. And the final act murderously stupendous. That was Herman Brood and his band Wild Romance, who came on at 3 a.m. I wrote a long prose-poem rap about it, Poetry & the Punks: An Apocalyptic Confrontation, which was print published in P78 Anthology and is also on my website. The six preceding days, at two other hip venues, were likewise good. When the bill is packed with cats such as William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Harold Norse, Patti Smith, Ira Cohen, Jessica Hagedorn, Anne Waldman, Simon Vinkenoog, Lewis MacAdams (to name but a handful), how could it be otherwise? The impresario organizer, Soyo Benn Posset, knew what he was doing. Benn staged several OWP festivals, and numerous reading events in between those. His last was a special William Burroughs tribute in September 1993, a year before he died of cancer at age 49.
JW: You mentioned your archive at Stanford University. Could you tell us more about that?
EW: It was my mid-1980s girlfriend Chrissy Richman who initially suggested assembling and trying to sell an Eddie Woods literary archive. She pitched the idea to the London bookseller Bernard Stone on one of his visits to Ins & Outs. He in turn connected me with an American book dealer, a specialist in placing such material. Yet it soon became apparent that this dude was actually looking to rip me off. ‘Sell the cream to me and I’ll help you with the rest.’ After a series of acrimonious letter exchanges and telephone calls, I dropped him like a hot potato and told Bernard, ‘Thanks anyway, but hey…!’ When I lost the Ins & Outs building in the summer of 1992, that and more got packed up and stored. All both by Jane Harvey, my ex-wife and to this day closest friend. Then in 1998, over drinks at a bar, my friend bart plantenga mooted that I must have a considerable archive. And if so, he was prepared to assist me in putting it together and would also make the necessary contacts. (bart is a writer and radio disc jockey with whom I’ve been associated since 1978.)
We worked on it for five years, that’s how much stuff I had. We sorted, we filed, we computer inventoried, we packed. And whilst doing all that accepted Stanford University’s offer to purchase. That happened in 2003. The archive contains correspondence, manuscripts, photographs and other artworks, rare books and magazines, printer layout sheets, oddball ephemera, you name it. Dozens of writers and artists are represented. The collection takes up 76 linear feet, and a detailed listing of contents can be accessed online. I couldn’t have done any of that without bart. I was living in Devonshire, England at the time, but regularly shuttling back & forth to Amsterdam. We stayed in email touch whenever I was in the UK. During my absences bart kept plugging away in the attic office above Jane’s flat that he’d renovated for the purpose. I’ll never forget opening the first of more than sixty large boxes. “Oh no, I can’t do this!” I yelled, and slammed it shut. Plus there’s always the temptation to stop and read things. Fine if you want to be at it for 50 years! In due course Stanford will be acquiring a second and equally substantial installment. In late 2008, I donated the Jenny Brookes (‘Tsunami Jenny’) file, with Stanford paying only the shipping cost.
EW: Ins & Outs is not independently active at present. We have no money and no distribution. Instead we’re concentrating on cooperative efforts. Primarily with Unrequited Records in San Francisco. To date they’ve released three CDs of 1980s Ins & Outs Press readings: Harold Norse Of Course (there’s also an LP of this), Jack Micheline in Amsterdam, and Herbert Huncke, Guilty of Everything. The first two were previously available only on audio cassette, the third not at all. An Amsterdam colleague and I edit the live recordings, I supply the photographs and write the liner notes, Unrequited produce and distribute. Two more are currently in the pipeline. Including my thoroughly erotic The Faerie Princess & Other Poems, accompanied by the fully illustrated text of the title poem (63 rhymed quatrains). Sloow Tapes in Belgium issued a limited-edition audio cassette version in 2011, sans the text.
As for me, I’m busy. There’s Mary, the 10-minute film adaptation of my poem “Mary” that I’ve been working on with the cinema artist Yarre Stooker. It stars Win Harms in the title role, and chances are it will be online by late January. I have two further memoirs in progress, The Road to Kathmandu and The Bookman. A volume of short fiction entitled Smugglers Train & Other Stories. A collection of autobiographical vignettes, Eddie Woods Snapshots. Tip of the iceberg, but I’ll stop there. I’m superstitious. Talk about it too much and it’ll never happen. Tempting fate, sort of thing. How far I’ll get with it all is in Divine Mother’s hands. But the glass of creativity is definitely overflowing. Om Kali Shakti Om.
JW: Having witnessed and participated in so much of the literary underground during the latter half of the 20th century, what is your view of the current wave of literary outlaws?
EW: I don’t have an overview. I’ve no time to stay on top of the scene. Win Harms, the virgin whore poetess, is an outlaw. She writes poems about ‘freedom, fucking, and psych wards’ that I wish Catullus could read. My 20-year old granddaughter Hannah Woods is an outlaw in the making. Most of her poems are in German, but the name of her website tells all: They Fuck Just Like Us. You want outlaws? Look to the distaff side. The new wave will be predominately female. In the fearless mold of the Berlin-based English poet & prose writer Karen Margolis. Oh yeah, for relaxation Win does needlepoint. Sent me one for my 73rd birthday. A pink rose and under that the word AssHole. And she didn’t even know about the suicide biz, tee-hee. It’s on the wall behind my computer, next to a stunningly sexy photograph of her.
JW: Any new poems that you’d like to dovetail into the interview?
EW: Poetry is in my blood. Has been since I was 15. But I need to focus on prose for the time being. And believe I have the Muse Erato’s blessing. At least until she taps me on the shoulder and says I should start work on my poems & photographs book Whores & Other Lovers. So here’s a poem from more than three decades ago that’s as true today as it was then. It’s for Jane. We were an intimate couple for eight years from 1973. We traveled, we had adventures, we continue to mutually inspire. Jane is my guardian angel.UG
Melkweg Saturday Night
The brutal moment
of a quietly breaking heart,
the thought, however fleeting,
of what life might be
Note: Archival photos courtesy of Eddie Woods.
John Wisniewski lives in Long Island, New York. He is a freelance writer and has written for Paraphilia Magazine, Grey Lodge Review/Aliterati, Horror Garage and other publications.
EDDIE WOODS (b. 1940 in New York City of Italian-American parents) knew three important things about himself early on in life. That he was a very sexual creature, that writing was his calling, and that he wanted out of the USA. Although his first sexual encounters were with prostitutes, he received his basic training in the art of lovemaking compliments of an exceedingly sensual older married woman, with whom he had a two-year affair from the age of 17. He managed to split the States by joining the Air Force for a four-year stint. They sent him to Germany, where he eventually married twice and fathered two beautiful daughters. Thereafter he traveled extensively until settling in Amsterdam in 1978. Eddie’s prose and poetry has been widely published in a variety of magazines. His two most recent books are Tsunami of Love: A Poems Cycle and Tennessee Williams in Bangkok. Once a Remy Martin drinker, he now prefers Jack Daniel’s.