OBSESSIONS IN LITERATURE
Tsunami of Love: A Poems Cycle
by Eddie Woods
Ins & Outs Press
PO Box 3759
1001 AN Amsterdam
ISBN: 1 90 70460-07-06
…for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
Like a shaman’s work, writing is a dark, secretive art. It’s a writer’s fixations with an object, person or element, earthly or divine, which makes him weave his intricate creative world. Like a shaman, a poet’s use of subterfuge in delving into his subjects, and the cunning with which he handles it, helps him look into his world with a sharper insight. That’s why they say a good writer has to be a bit of a villain to succeed. A very gentle, socially amicable individual mightn’t dare take the risks that his work requires.
Some of the greatest bards of the Indian subcontinent led notorious lives before becoming poets. It is reported that Valamiki was a dacoit [armed bandit] before becoming a grand saint poet. Similarly, Tulsidas had this strange fixation with his wife. It’s said he loved her so much that on a starless and stormy night he secretly climbed through a window into her room when she had gone to her parents’ house. In the dark, the poet held onto a rope-like thing hanging from a tree near the window and climbed into the room without realizing it was a snake dangling. On learning this, his wife rebuked him: “The passion you have for me, if you had half of that fervor for God, you would have achieved salvation by now.” This, they say, made Tulsi write the holiest book of the Hindus, The Ramayana.
At the same time, we poets think in terms of broader seasons, or larger sequences, instead of working in straight lines, mechanically, or being calendar-wise. It’s the sporadic passion that works the magic. American poet Robert Lowell once revealed that during the winter he translates, whereas in spring and summer he concentrates on his own writings. Like planets, writers alter, passing through cycles, seasons of sterility and fertility. Like snakes, they go into hibernations to shed the scales of their sordid lives, and come out spanking new, with immaculate faces and their lives transformed.
One such person is the American poet Eddie Woods. When we first met in late 2004 (in Amsterdam, Holland), he was apparently in fine fettle. Enough to write an article about me, a cover story in fact, for the newspaper Amsterdam Weekly. Early the following year, however, he was definitely otherwise. As he confided while we were walking beneath the famous Munt [Mint] tower. Quoting Lowell, he then added: “If we see a light at the end of the tunnel, / It’s the light of an oncoming train.”
Eddie had recently returned from Devon, England, where six years earlier he’d relocated to from Amsterdam in order to live with his beloved Jenny and her three children. But alas, the events that eventually transpired had rendered him both sullen and close to suicidal.
Even though he gladly took me on a tour of Amsterdam (a city he loves, and the metropolis he finally opted for in the late 1970s, after abandoning his birthplace New York City two decades before and then spending years traveling the world), I could see he had entered a huge ball of despondency. When afterwards I went to London, I kept track of Eddie. It was in the Great Nepalese Restaurant near Tottenham Court Road that his writer friend Bruce Bayley told me over a lunch that Eddie had risen from the dark dungeon of his soul and written a long poem about the devastating estrangement from his beloved Jenny, whom he recalls once saying to him (referring to a time before they became lovers in the flesh):
“All those years
I was keeping my body
in very good shape.
I wanted to show it to you.
But you never came…
I didn’t feel myself worthy”
When I got the book I could not believe that it was by the same Eddie who had previously been contemplating death. One could see he had worked hard to publish this beautiful volume. He had contacted the American Book Center in Amsterdam for support. His friends—including ex-wife Jane Harvey, art curator Bozzie Rabie, former Happy Hooker Xaviera Hollander, writer William Levy, Indian musician Prince Rama Verma, Monica Heynderickx, and several others, along with the generous American book store—had come forward to contribute to Eddie’s project and thereby help resurrect his sadness from the depths as something totally else. As a newness, brimming with sparkling poetic heights.
For Eddie’s book, Tsunami of Love, is a marvelous series of love poems. The way he has woven the grief of his private life into a breathtaking sequence of poetry is the kind of magic that only a poet coming out of a dark tunnel can accomplish. Instead of grieving over his loss, he asserts his tsunamis of passion on purely naked sexual grounds that leave the reader mesmerized. An Asian poet would have become sentimental or glorified the lost beloved’s charm. But Eddie states the facts as facts: “You liked my underpants / but hated my socks.”
The book sketches the agony of a poet who had uprooted himself and moved to England to be with the girl of his dreams. He opens the title poem (there are six poems in all, the first two being very long ‘letter narratives’) with “…sparkle of love divine / stepping off that bus / you standing there…love oozing from every pore” and goes into intimate details of his life in Devonshire. Using personal letters, dialogues, photographs and recollections, Eddie weaves this story that has its origins in Asia. A widely traveled author, he had been to Nepal thirty years earlier and actually met his beloved Jenny in India. “But we always belonged to each other, / and you knew it first, from India onwards; / through your marriage, your babies, / the novice priest you lured between your thighs, / your long love affair straight out of Thomas Hardy.”
Later it turns out that, among other things, it is Eddie’s smoking which is one of the major reasons for the breakup. “That a screen of smoke helped sever our relationship!” But in an intriguing love affair like this, there’s always more. Eddie goes into the concrete details of the trouble, exploring why the dream shattered—the countryside, money, time, fading sexuality, and Amsterdam—followed, months after he’d left, by the receipt of a painful letter from Jenny: “Sharp pen in the groin / from a lady I adored.”
While reading the poem one feels as though you are reading, in a tiny capsule form, a riveting narrative from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. And one can always, especially in times of turmoil, and in the winter of one’s life, return to such a timeless, precious book. As for the moral of his tale, Eddie writes:
When a man comes home too late,
he ends up a stranger in an empty house.
Yuyutsu R.D. Sharma
This review was published in the Kathmandu Post (August 6th 2006).
Tsunami of Love (book and/or CD) can be purchased here
The Kindle edition is available here