Soyo Benn: A Profile

He was definitely one of the good guys, there’s no doubt about it. And the fact that he effectively blackballed me from getting any paid poetry engagements in Amsterdam for the best part of a decade changes nothing. Which isn’t to say I deserved it or anything; it was strictly a personal matter. Benn reckoned I’d crossed him and was dead set on letting me know how furious he was. That a murky residue of anger remained for so many years after we’d made up—were not only talking again but also doing business, plus him occasionally tapping me for large-sum donations (“I’m short a thousand to bring Burroughs over,” sort of thing)—may seem weird to some people, me included. But hey, Soyo had a mean streak in him, even if his itchy trigger-finger wasn’t always such a dependable friend. As often as not, he managed to shoot himself in the foot, to boot.

I first met Benn Posset in late spring (or maybe it was already summer) 1978. Two issues of Ins & Outs magazine were securely notched on our belts, and we were either brainstorming, or already working on, the spectacular third number. While Benn, his enthusiasm for mega-poetry events having been acutely whetted the previous year in Venice (by P77, the ‘first international poetry festival,’ at which Benn was mainly an observer), was now barreling beautifully ahead with organizing his own One World Poetry Festival, to be kicked off in September by a contingent of over 40 poets and musicians from 11 countries. He’d heard about the mag, possibly even leafed through a copy (especially back then, Soyo wasn’t what you would call an ardent reader; said he wanted to write himself one day and not be unduly influenced by others), and instinctively felt we had something in common. And, let’s not kid ourselves, that we could be of promotional use to him.

In those days—unlike during my later ‘empire years,’ when just getting an appointment with me took some doing—the old Ins & Outs office had a free-flowing open-door policy. So one afternoon Benn casually strolled in, and the moment some chair space cleared next to my desk, sat down and started laying his rap on me. I asked questions, we talked long, and everything he said sounded at once promising and exciting. I also felt reassured upon learning that the festival’s name (actually coined by Dutch writer Simon Vinkenoog) had nothing in common with any notions of ‘one world government’ or with political loony Garry Davis’ World Service Authority. In Benn’s heart and mind, the term signified a vibrational force-field that was both very real and yet less materially tangible than anything for which even a WSA ‘world passport’ might be of use. Benn, you see, had a vision: of a non-geographically specific commune comprised of internationally dispersed, like-minded individuals. The festivals, along with other extravaganzas he was vaguely planning, were seen as ‘tribal gatherings,’ with poets (and some musicians) fulfilling their anointed role as messengers.

As for the commune, that was Soyo, named after his late Japanese wife, who was killed in an accident—automobile, I believe; or perhaps she was hit by a car. This is purely an appreciation not a biographical sketch, so I’m not going digging for obscure facts that bear no relevance to my primary purpose. All else I know about the original Soyo—the Soyo who was before Benn acquired the moniker, via his Soyo Productions umbrella—is that Benn loved her, just as he’d loved Japan; and that they had two children together. But certain historical details are necessary, the main one being that Benn (or So-So, as I most fondly remember him) already had nearly 20 years organizing experience in his pocket prior to seriously encountering poetry. His occupational forte in this respect was squatting, not on his haunches but rather flats and houses into which those needing places to live could move. One achievement that he rightly prided himself on was having ‘cracked’ a number of uninhabited Japanese islands and then turning people loose on them.

It is worth noting that while in both English and German the linguistic emphasis describing this often-vital social activity is basically passive, in Dutch it is strenuously active. The German word is besetzen, meaning to occupy, to be there (same as in English), whereas in Dutch it’s kraken, the act of going in and taking over. Soyo Benn was not only an accomplished kraker, he was bloody well crackerjack at it.

So Benn dropped by our first, constantly bustling Ins & Outs office; we rapped, later on I read through the material he left behind and also spoke with others—about him, about the festival and how it was shaping up—and liked what I heard back. Issue no. 3 of Ins & Outs magazine devoted three pages of text and photos to P78 Amsterdam, coupled with a prominent mention on the cover. Thus began our strange association, down a potholed road we somehow kept tramping for more than 16 years. It was an interesting journey, and for the most part mutually rewarding.

I also appeared at P78, though only on the grand closing night at Paradiso, a cataclysm of performance splendor that indelibly etched the spirit of ‘one world poetry’ on the map of incredible happenings.[1] Nor does it in any way detract from the half-dozen or so festivals Benn subsequently staged, or from the numerous readings, special events and tours that he regularly organized over the next decade and a half, to say that the unique aura of that one night would never be recaptured. It wasn’t supposed to be. Just as the calm, almost communal atmosphere of the five preceding evenings (a financial disaster held at another venue) was thereafter a lost charm. Indeed, virtually all of Benn’s later productions were more polished, more professionally presented, than this initial splash that had Dutch reviewers calling One World Poetry the “rowdy little brother” of Rotterdam’s long-established, and by comparison rather staid, Poetry International. But Benn already knew the direction in which he was heading; and by early the following year, so did I.

At the time, and for quite a while afterward, so much was made of our dramatic falling out, that the underlying friendship cementing our relationship was entirely overlooked. Many people (most of whom should have known better) were so absorbed with getting their own ends in, they either never realized, or conveniently forgot, that Benn and I were essentially very close. As a colleague he gave me unlimited access to the extensive audio recordings of P78 for the radio documentary, “Poetry as a Weapon” (October 1978), that I compiled and narrated with poet & prose writer Hans Plomp. And as a buddy he let me and my companion Jane live in his flat for a couple of weeks when the first incarnation of Ins & Outs was drawing to a close and we were running out of places to stay. Then Jane and I departed Amsterdam; and what occurred toward the end of winter, when I returned two months ahead of her, says a lot about who Benn was, and about the chemistry we sometimes seemed to share.

The anecdote provides a footnote in “A Brief History of Ins & Outs Press,”[2] but I’ll tell the story more fully here. No one in Amsterdam knew or had reason to surmise I was coming up from Barcelona, not then or maybe ever. When Jane and I left Holland it wasn’t for a holiday, and the Costa Brava was hopefully embraced as a temporary refuge for scraping together the wherewithal to continue traveling. Disembarking from the bus after an exhausting 24-hour ride, I hadn’t a clue where I might stay but was sure something would materialize. It did, in delicious abundance even. The Israeli brothers I was looking to connect with (former patrons of Ins & Outs, both of them shrewd hustlers) had closed their vegetarian restaurant and left the country; partially on account of their disappearance, what was naively foreseen as a hit-&-run business visit unavoidably turned into a very long haul. I made my way to the main train station, parked my biggest carryall in a coin locker, and started ringing round from a public phone. Within the hour I was sipping tea at a lady friend’s place, where a few other close acquaintances had hastily gathered to welcome me back.

Suddenly someone said, “Say, what’s today’s date? Eddie, you’re reading tonight, at the Melkweg.”

“That’s impossible. Why would I be on anyone’s calendar?”

“But you are, I’m sure of it. Where’s the bulletin? Here, look: ‘Soyo Productions presents…,’ and there’s your name. We’d best get a move on, it starts in less than an hour. Do you have any poems with you?”

“In my other bag,” I said, “at Central Station.”

Off to the station on foot, bumping into a couple more people en route, then all of us by tram to the Milky Way multimedia center, Amsterdam’s premier setting for fringe performance events, both local and international. The reading was about to get underway as we coolly waltzed into the downstairs auditorium.

“Hey,” Benn said, as though he’d last seen me yesterday. “You’re reading after Simon, okay?”

“Benn, how did my name get on the program? There’s no way you could’ve known I’d be here.”

“So-so,” he replied, his eyes just barely twinkling.

There’s So-So and there’s Otto (say OH-toe), two handy tags by which many of us referred to him. And they were both his own inadvertent doing. Benn’s English was fairly good, but only up to a point. And it wasn’t helped by having to communicate in it with any number of non-native speakers whose own conversational command of the language left something to be desired (no matter if they could write reasonably well and even recite in it); or worse yet, with fast-talking Americans who seldom paused long enough to ascertain whether he was digesting all of what they were saying. And Benn, rather than get bogged down by asking possibly irrelevant questions or attempting to decipher picayune details, would trust to his intuition that he’d gotten the drift and simply nod and say “So-so.” Used thusly, the expression also implied (you understood this once you knew him) that in any push coming to shove scenario, he’d be hellbent on doing things his way. “Otto”—and God alone knows where he picked that one up—was by several degrees more definite. It meant ‘gotcha’ or ‘yes’ or, more optimistically seen, that he agreed with you.

That was a nice reading I came back to in February 1979. But it wouldn’t take long for the “So-so’s,” and for sure the “Otto’s,” to get put on indefinite hold where my ears were concerned. The dark ages of our friendship were just around the corner.

I’ve already mentioned the bad blood that started to spill between us in “A Brief History.” A major rift occurred when I compèred an early Burroughs event (a real Soyo coup: Dutch audiences adored William) at the Melkweg. I’d been asked to do the gig by the poet-painter Harry Hoogstraten, but it was Benn’s show and Benn who was footing the bill. And when halfway through the evening he shouted across the packed hall to call an intermission, he meant to be obeyed. But everyone was in high gear and no one performing seemed inclined to pause—not me, not Harry, not Rotterdam jazz-poet Jules Deelder, and most importantly not William S. Burroughs. While rock ‘n roller Herman Brood was too stoned on speed to give a hoot, never mind the Hell’s Angels he had with him, standing in the wings and glaring to boogie. Yet Benn kept yelling “Stop. You do what I tell you!” So I put it to the crowd, the crowd unanimously voted to “Go on, give us more, don’t stop now.” And so we didn’t stop. Only from then on, Benn and I pretty much did, with my Other World Poetry Newsletter [3] putting total paid to any rapport between us for two full years.

The Newsletter was my way of trying to talk to Benn when he wouldn’t otherwise listen. Politics inevitably invades most human endeavors, and organizing successful poetry festivals could hardly prove an exception. But Benn was pushing beyond the bounds of acceptable necessity: he was creating a monopoly, and in so doing knocking deep chinks in his fundamental vision. It wasn’t a question of the people he was letting in, the big names needed as obvious drawing cards; or even of those, regardless if they were friends, who would understandably have to wait their periodic turns on the proscenium, since there was no way you could run a going concern and keep booking the same faces all the time. Business is business, no matter what commodity you’re selling. Yet when various performing poets, who also had a flair for organizing, were out of the blue being told by the city’s leading venues that they’d made exclusive arrangements with Soyo Productions for presenting poetry events, ergo “take your ideas to Benn, not us,” it was clear that the erstwhile ‘back-door guy’ had decided to clip everyone else’s wings and fly alone. So I wheeled out my literary artillery and started firing ack-ack at him.

Naturally Benn struck back, that was only to be expected. I’d publicly criticized him, and made damn sure the offending broadside enjoyed wide circulation. This wasn’t talking, it was screaming. Others’ reactions ran the gamut from delight to thoughtful concern, and in a few instances short-lived rage; this last among those who’d bought into Benn’s retort that my attack (as they also construed it) was personally motivated. More interesting, however, was when these same people later tried to solicit my support in ‘getting Benn.’ Time had worn on, my predictions were coming true, and look who’d been shut out in the theatrical cold. So now what I’m hearing is: “Eddie, I always knew you were right.” The hell you did, mate! Besides which, I had nothing against Benn. I’d said my piece, like it or not he’d heard some of it, and all I planned on doing was to stand back and watch how the wind blew for him.

It was blowing okay, even though his ornery ways didn’t change. When Patti Smith gave a free reading for 100 invited guests (following a sell-out band concert hours earlier), of course Benn saw to it that I got a pass. We didn’t need to be on speaking terms for that. And I silently cheered when she verbally whiplashed the audience for laughing loudly at a silly mistake he made while adjusting her microphone.

“Don’t laugh!” bawled the petite rocker menacingly. “If it weren’t for this man, I wouldn’t be here. Do it again and I’m gone.” Moreover, this was the second time Patti had performed gratis for Benn.

The festivals were going well, Amsterdam was getting treated to some wonderful performances, local poets were falling in and out of Benn’s favor like perverse clockwork. With Benn now guarding the front door and keeping all cashboxes under his personal lock & key, I’d every so often, just for the hell of it, circumvent his roadblocks and do a reading—including at one of his events (!), but mainly at cafés and bars that tended to pay doodly-squat. It didn’t matter: by then I was making money in other ways, and happily keeping busy writing, editing and publishing. And before it finally happened, I never once gave a thought as to how or when Benn and I would get back to talking. I took it for granted we would.

Enter Brion Gysin. The famed painter, anti-poet and self-proclaimed misanthrope (“Man is a bad animal”); the man who’d turned Burroughs on to the possibilities of cut-up writing (a notion he himself had filched from the Dadaist antics of Tristan Tzara) yet later called William “Master,” and who years earlier had been unceremoniously evicted from the surrealist movement by André Breton…Brion Gysin was back in town, brought to Amsterdam by Benn Posset for a duet at the Melkweg with très avant-garde soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. I’d gotten to know Brion at P78, had visited him a couple of times in Paris, and for sure wanted to catch this dynamic twosome strutting their stuff. As ever (i.e., when all else failed), my press pass got me in.

After the performance, I went backstage to say hello to Brion and meet Steve. Surprisingly, apart from the three of us plus Benn, the dressing room was empty. Nor was anyone saying much. They were waiting for ‘the man.’ From the look of things, all best would be if he got there soon: Benn was out of coke and clearly in need of a thick line, while Steve wanted to buy a packet quick and split for the jazz clubs. Although I had a small stash in my kick, it didn’t seem either my place or an apt occasion to offer. Besides, Brion was strictly into cannabis and it was him I’d come to see.

Another few minutes on and the dealer sauntered in, a pleasant English chap I knew from both here and London. Benn scored first and in no time flat was sniffing away. Having sufficiently stoked himself, he turned and offered toots, first to Brion (I think he accepted, out of politeness) and then Steve, who had a one-and-one and abruptly left. Now what? Benn couldn’t simply ignore me, not with Brion looking on.

“Eddie?” he said, taking a few steps towards me and proffering his tiny golden spoon. I said “Sure” and took a single hit. It wasn’t exactly the polar cap melting, but you’d have to be stone deaf not to hear a surface being scratched.

Benn crossed the room again and immediately got into an animated discussion with Brion. They were out of earshot, I was standing there quietly marking time, so I fingered for my little glass bottle and knocked back a hit or two more. Then Benn walked over to me and…started talking!

“Brion wants to go somewhere, but I don’t know the right places. Any ideas?”

I had ideas, all right, and they were precisely up Brion’s homosexual alley. My first suggestion met with instant approval.

“Wells Fargo? Let’s go!” said Brion gleefully. He’d recently had a fling with an heir to the corporate fortune, so the name alone struck a perfect chord. Within minutes we were seated in Benn’s car and heading for one of Amsterdam’s heaviest leather bars. Brion sat in front, not least because his colostomy condition demanded that much extra respect. And given the circumstances, one might even think I was lucky to be there, period. During the drive, communication between me and Benn was mostly kept to him asking and my giving directions, but that in itself was something. Or so I thought.

“Brion,” I impulsively blurted out, just as Benn was slowing down to scour for a parking space; “do you realize that this is first time Benn and I have spoken to one another in two years?”

Brion’s head swung sharply round, eyes glaring into mine for a seemingly interminable mini-second before his lips bitingly snapped: “Shut your fucking mouth!”

Gulp. I was too taken aback to try and notice if Benn was grinning, or even care. Benn parked and we all walked from car to bar silently, with me leading the way. The joint was overflowing with nothing but leather queens, and incredibly noisy. At either end of the narrow saloon, complete with sawdust on the floor, an oversized screen was showing a different yet equally graphic porn video. Ignoring both people and hubbub, and acting like he’d been there countless times before, Brion quickly cut to the right and ducked through a thickly-curtained doorway. Benn and I followed, first one then the other stumbling down an unseen cement step, only to find ourselves in a practically pitch-black grope room. With Brion already well out of sight.

“Back inside?” said one of us, the other promptly agreeing. We made our way to the longest of the club’s two bars and somehow found a pair of empty stools standing side by side. If I hadn’t known better, I might’ve thought they’d been reserved for us, they were so incomprehensibly deserted. We sat down, ordered drinks, sipped slowly when they came, and waited. Then ordered another round. But still no Brion. Yep, the tricky bastard had definitely done it. No wonder even Burroughs saw him as a kind of magician. Were the damn stools his doing, as well?

I forget who started talking first or what about, but it was Benn who broke the ice by offering me a surreptitious hit of coke, a gesture I surely reciprocated from my own stash. But for at least several minutes after the first word had been uttered (and it must have been a solid hour before Brion saw fit to reappear), our conversation could not have been anything but desultory: how long Brion would be staying, whether I’d be doing another issue of the mag, when the next festival was scheduled for, and so on. What I do clearly recall is, once we had exhausted all those rambling possibilities and another pause ensued, it was I who conspicuously changed course by turning to Benn and saying:

“You know, man, when I wrote that newsletter, it was really intended as…well, as a kind of love letter.”

“Eddie,” he replied dryly, “love letters like that I can live without.”

And we both laughed, Benn literally going “Ho-ho,” which he was wont to do when in an exceptionally good mood. And ordered more drinks. And snorted more coke. And speculated and guffawed about what Brion might have gotten up to in the grope room. (Personally, I doubt he’d done anything beyond hang out, get off and poetically groove on the sounds, and merely kill time. Grope rooms and glory holes just didn’t seem his style.) And then kept talking, about this, that, and all sorts of other things. All of a sudden Brion was back and ready to leave.

The Ins & Outs building, which at that time also housed the bookstore we still had, was on the way to Brion’s hotel, so we stopped off there in order for Brion to collect a stack of the postcard I’d published showing him holding a ‘bandaged poet’ papier-mâché cast of his four-toed foot. I wasn’t yet living on the premises, but it was a short and refreshing walk along a red-light canal to the garret flat I occupied, upstairs from a brothel. Before they drove off, the three of us agreed to meet for breakfast the following morning.

“I’m sorry about last night,” Brion said, positioning himself beside me at the hotel’s luncheon counter. “I know who the guy is, what he’s about, and where he thinks he’s coming from. The time wasn’t ripe for you to say anything.”

“It’s okay, Brion; you did fine.”

“You understand then?”

“Perfectly,” I said. “And thank you.”

With which Benn ambled in and plunked his large frame alongside Brion. We had breakfast, chatted amiably, went for a leisurely stroll, and then each got on with his respective day.

Benn and I were communicating again. To a great extent, we’d once more become friends. He started phoning me regularly (“How you been?” were always his opening words), usually to ask if he could pop by—to discuss some business deal or, less often but frequently enough, get me to contribute to an upcoming project. We’d even socialize now and then: new herring and korenwijn (very old Dutch gin) at a stall outside a nearby fishmonger’s; dinner at Padrino’s, our favorite after-midnight ‘mafiosi’ restaurant, or even at his home; or simply drinks and chit-chat in a variety of watering holes following the many Soyo events to which I was now consistently invited. I met dozens of counter-culture personalities through Benn, from Stewart Brand, Ken Kesey and Baba Ram Dass to Dass (Richard Alpert)’s old Harvard sidekick Timothy Leary—the second meeting with Tim providing an opportunity for me to tell him face-to-face how vehemently I disagreed with so much of what he’d written and promulgated from about midway through The Politics of Ecstasy. He giddily repaid the inverse compliment by scrawling his John Hancock in my copy of Gordon Liddy’s autobiography Will, just below the chapter that ends: “Much of my work in the drug abuse area was grim. Then I met Timothy Leary.” Little did he and I know that in the course of time our eulogies for Benn would be posted in tandem on the same memorial web page. While not long after Benn’s demise, at age 49, Tim himself was gone.

When Bill Burroughs was yet again in Amsterdam, and Ins & Outs Press had just produced Kirke Wilson’s silkscreen image of William (from another of Ira Cohen’s ‘bandaged poets’ photographs), Benn trouped him, James Grauerholz and James’ young boyfriend round to the office for an afternoon that, with the help of my own coterie of friends and lovers, became late evening without anyone noticing. On a further occasion he came by with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, an infinitely more cheerful meeting than the one Allen witnessed at the Canon Gallery in 1992, when Benn and I clashed bitterly over ‘prerogatives’ concerning the Ginsberg screenprint, a joint production with Turret Books of London that Benn felt he ought to have a finger in. Friends we were, but uninterrupted smooth sailing was beyond our reach.

Still, we joined forces with no difficulty to bring Herbert Huncke to Europe—for an Ins & Outs reading, a Soyo tour, and (of course) a limited-edition Kirke Wilson silkscreen, this one additionally bearing a Soyo Productions imprint. Just as, three years earlier, it was my sponsorship alone that enabled Harold Norse to fly in from California for a One World Poetry festival at which he outdid his P78 appearance—and then ended up staying with me, as well as giving a knockout I&O reading. Such an awful lot of cooperation, both with and without annoying confrontations (a rhythm obviously designed to keep us on our toes); and Benn being one of a mere handful of people to have constant, no-questions-asked access to me throughout a certain lengthy spell of non-ascetic seclusion I once imposed on myself.

Withal, it wasn’t till a year before his death (in September of 1994) that Benn again requested my participation in a Soyo performance event, a William Burroughs Tribute at which I ‘played WSB’ to culinary writer Johannes van Dam’s Allen Ginsberg (part of a dialogue that had actually taken place) and also co-presented. What with Ira Cohen and his quondam colleague, the conscientiously provocative William Levy, both on the program and openly locking horns, German writer Udo Breger and I phoning Burroughs (and his five cats!) in Lawrence, Kansas (from the stage, with the audience listening in), plus a clutch of lively readings, it was a truly magnificent last hurrah.

Benn was already quite ill, though hardly anyone realized this. When we went for a hurried snack beforehand, he calmly revealed that he’d been pissing blood earlier. By then his second marriage was badly on the rocks, so in all likelihood not even his Austrian wife Marlise (with whom he’d had a third child) knew how grave his condition was rapidly becoming. Physical fitness had never been Benn’s strongest suit, while workaholism combined with a huge appetite for drugs and booze had taken a steady toll. His body had scant resistance for fighting the bladder cancer he’d now been diagnosed with. It was a downhill struggle leading to an unbearably painful end.

Hence I was not amused when, shortly after Benn first went into hospital, a recent competitor (who would soon take over as Holland’s number one festival organizer) sent him a fax saying: “See what happens when you mess with me!” The sender mistakenly assumed Benn had been struck down by a heart attack. A couple of days later, he actually had one.

“You can’t do that,” I told the culprit over the phone. “Send him another fax apologizing. Now!”

The follow-up fax read: “I hope you recover, but I don’t take back anything I said.”

I rang again. “You might as well send one more, saying: ‘Dear Benn, Drop dead!’ Are you mad, stupid, or just plain evil?”

When the writer/photographer Peter Edel heard about the faxes, he summed up what many of us thought by remarking: “We all know Benn ripped a few people off in his time, but that’s no reason to treat him like a war criminal.”

Ripoffs. Walking along a corridor at one of the festivals, I espied Benn and the English poet & playwright Heathcote Williams engaged in what looked like a heated verbal exchange. ‘Keep moving,’ I advised myself; but escape wasn’t in the cards.

“Eddie,” Benn hollered, “can you help us out?”

I shuffled on over.

“I’m trying to tell Heath why 200 guilders has to come off his fee. It’s not really taxes, it’s…[he muttered something in Dutch, which I now forget and probably didn’t know anyway]. What’s it called in English?”

“I know,” said Heathcote, purposely exaggerating his public school enunciation. “It’s called theft.”

‘Have fun,’ I thought, and continued my journey, no doubt to the bar.

Yes, there were finagles, even if that wasn’t one; and not all of them as amusing or involving such relatively trifling amounts. But in the overall balance of things, they make nary a ripple. Benn Posset did so much good, brought so many interesting people together, presented such an enormity of excellent poetry-in-performance (and thereby helped establish Amsterdam as an international literary entertainment center), that the bits and pieces of change he may have skimmed off the bottom (or, sometimes, brazenly from the top), must ultimately be considered as his fair due. He never grew rich from it, that’s for sure. As for the unnecessary aggro he was a past master at stirring up: nobody’s perfect!

Benn’s funeral was well attended, by friends and former foes alike. I delivered the eulogy, a short poem I’d hastily scrawled that morning. Jane, who even after our separation remained privy to all my turmoils with Benn, declined to view his bloated body before it was cremated. “I prefer to remember him the way he was,” she said. And no, the guy who sent those nasty faxes didn’t show up, so at least I can’t accuse him of being a hypocrite.

I miss Benn. So do a lot of people.

© 2010 by Eddie Woods

[1] See Poetry & the Punks: An Apocalyptic Confrontation

[2] A Brief History of Ins & Outs Press

[3] Other World Poetry Newsletter

for Soyo Benn

From today for me
the sun rises in the West,
where you made poetry happen
when most urgently awaited,
and sets in the East,
place that gave birth
to your visions of tribal gatherings,
of poets as messengers,
and where I hear you wanted
half your ashes scattered.
The words “How you been?”
I shan’t hear again
without thinking of you,
but thank God our differences were reconciled
even as those who never knew better
continued to wish that we were still quarreling.
In the end it all came right,
was always coming right, in fact.
We wheeled & dealed,
we talked & didn’t talk,
we tried at times to take each other
for a certain kind of ride.
But the real stakes were much bigger
and you for sure
drove more than a few of them nicely home.
I wore white at your wedding,
wear black at your funeral.
Yet whether in black, white
or shades & colors somewhere in between,
I hope & pray
that very soon
you will once more be the guy
opening the back door
to poets in whatever worlds
you next encounter.
So long, Soyo,
scarred samurai of poetry’s politics.
So-So, just like that.

EW September 26th 1994

The poem “So-So” was published in Exquisite Corpse print edition no. 51 (1995)

Soyo Benn & Eddie Woods (1986) © by Peter Edel