June 3rd 2011
As you’ll already know from the title of this piece, what follows is the story behind The Faerie Princess, my erotic fairy tale in verse. Those who have not yet read the poem may want to do that now. If so, make sure to come back here afterwards! Or you can read this first and the poem later. There’s a link to it down below, as well as here
I wrote The Faerie Princess in London in 1977. It was a prolific time for me. Sitting at my studio desk facing a large bay window (with the curtains drawn, as I usually worked late at night), a succession of poems and short stories were flowing from my typewriter in rapid succession. This was in Brixton, on Lambeth Road, not all that far from the prison. Jane Harvey and I were renting the flat from a friendly Polish landlord whose wife was an actress. The studio was also my Kali room. I’d made a vow that for every poem or story the deity allowed me to write that was not specifically about or dedicated to her, the next one would be. I also performed various Kali devotions, many of which were overtly sexual. Such was the nature of my relationship with Hindu goddess of death, destruction and the transformation of time. (Once, in Kathmandu, Jane abruptly left the flat we were sharing there and flew off to Thailand, saying: “This place is only big enough for two people. You and Kali have fun.”) Anyway, The Faerie Princess was one of those in-between poems. Whatever triggered it, the words pretty much poured out nonstop. I also knew from the start that rhyme and meter would be key.
just in time
unlocks the very door
the poet’s heart was waiting for.
My first public recitation of the poem came more than a year later, in Amsterdam. Although by then fully immersed in editing Ins & Outs magazine, I somehow managed to occasionally squeeze in a reading. Among those in the audience was the painter Niels Hamel. Not only did Niels like the poem; he was so excited by its visual possibilities that he offered to illustrate it. I found that a great idea and readily agreed. Alas, more than a decade and a half went by without anything happening. I’d see Niels only sporadically, in passing, and always when we were both busy with other things. From time to time I’d muse on the poem being illustrated, and mention this to some artist or other. Two or three gave it a shot and brought me samples. But they invariably got it all wrong, got the princess wrong. Rendering her either too sugary soft or too hardcore pornographic.
Then of an afternoon sometime in 1994 I was having lunch in a café when Niels strolled in and sat at my table. “Say, remember those illustrations I said I’d do for your faerie princess poem? Well, the other day I came across the sketches I’d made shortly after we spoke. They’re good! And now I want to do the paintings. Are you still up for that?”
Hell yes, I was up for it. All the more so since Hans Plomp had recently translated the poem into Dutch. Niels set to work immediately and in less than two months we had everything required for a bilingual book. And knew exactly how it should look: roughly A4 size (or quarto, same as many children’s picture books) and hardcover; four to five stanzas of Dutch text on the right-hand pages (there are 63 quatrains in both versions), with 13 full-page illustrations spilling over from the left; and the original English text taking up however many pages at the end. While an English-only edition would have the images to the left of those stanzas. Niels had additionally made an extra painting for the title page and a smaller one for the copyright page. Fantastic. Now what we needed was a publisher!
Whoever said it, we must have all been thinking it, he was such a natural. “Lucifer. Let’s ask him. He’s sure to have some suggestions.” Lucifer was an ‘alternative entrepreneur’ who owned a couple or so companies, dabbled in new-age mysticism, and had a magazine: mainly a trade periodical, but with a smattering of ‘consciousness-raising’ feature articles interspersed. Yeah, Lucifer was the guy, all right. So we rang him. He invited us all out to dinner. And over Indonesian rijsttafel we talked turkey.
“I’ll publish it,” he said. “And pay you up front. Five thousand guilders, the three of you decide how best to divide that. Plus royalties once it starts selling.”
Now there was a plan. A plan that panned out. Except that it didn’t really. The Faerie Princess appeared under its Dutch title De Nimfenprinses as a stapled insert in the next issue of Lucifer’s eponymous magazine. How many copies were printed and sold to whom and where, I haven’t a clue. Since this wasn’t the point. Whereas the book was. And for that Lucifer had arranged a substantial print overrun of the poem insert section only. (Hey, it even had an ISBN.) And these overruns were meant to be bound in genuine covers and get distributed, put in shops, so that people could buy them. And newspapers review it. Et cetera.
Was there in fact such an overrun? A large one, I mean. Beats me. There was a small ‘presentation event’ out in the artists colony village of Ruigoord, where Hans and Niels lived and I sometimes did readings, performances. Lucifer brought with him maybe three dozen unbound copies and a small handful that had been hand-bound in plain orange covers. The real books would be ready…soon. Instead months passed and we heard nothing. Lucifer was away on business, or visiting Timothy Leary in California, or doing God knows what else. Until one day, out of the blue, he walks over to me (I was nursing a drink on a café terrace) and says: “I’ve got a box with 60 or 70 copies in the car. I can drive you home with them if you like. The printer lost the rest before I could get them bound.” Huh? He was cool as a cucumber. There was no book, end of story.
But now, all these years on, there’s a new story. I want The Faerie Princess to get properly published. In English alone and/or in Dutch and English. Along with all the illustrations. I’d further like to see the poem translated into German. And French, Spanish, Italian; whatever. The individual copyrights are intact and Lucifer’s onetime publications rights expired eons ago. Ergo, no problem on that score. So if you are a reputable publisher (you keep your word, and don’t use printers who lose stuff!), and are sincerely interested in taking The Faerie Princess on, then please email me via the Contact page
Potential translators are welcome to do the same. Also animators, and filmmakers. It has been suggested to me, by more than one person, that The Faerie Princess be made as a short animated art film. Or, a film in which real people would provide backup for the recitation. Subtle evocative acting, rather than following the narrative to the letter. What an exciting prospect!
Am I still on speaking terms with Lucifer? Are any of us? I am, we are. He’s basically an okay guy. He just screwed up with The Faerie Princess, is all. What should I do, sue him? Hah!
I said at the beginning that The Faerie Princess was written in between whatever I wrote to or for Kali on either side. Yes and no. Kali was entirely present while I was depicting my lovely wood nymph and her fantastic adventures. She was verily guiding my fingers every step of the way. Death is the other side of life. Is indeed one with life. And what Kali is out to destroy is the ego, or at least its worst aspects. As for the transformation of time… Ah well, the princess herself is forever timeless.
NB An Eddie Woods audio cassette, The Faerie Princess & Other Poems, is currently in production and will be released sometime in 2011 by Sloowtapes, Belgium. Stay tuned for a definitive announcement
The Faerie Princess
Complete with all the illustrations