Barry MacSweeney Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers of the poet Barry MacSweeney consist of draft and published works, correspondence, literature reviews, poetry publications, photographs and newspapers articles.

There is correspondence from a range of MacSweeney's friends, fellow poets and family including material from Clive Bush, Pete Bland, Tim Fletcher, Nicholas Johnson, Jackie Litherland, Maggie O'Sullivan, Eric Mottram, Elaine Randall, Jeremy Prynne and Chris Torrence, as well as letters from his immediate family, letters and publication agreements from publishers and correspondence relating to the Poetry Society.

The papers also include a large number of poetry magazines and review publications, by small presses or locally produced, although it should be noted that a lot of this type of material is housed in the MacSweeney Library (see note below).

There is also a certain amount of published and unpublished material by other poets, in particular material sent by poets for comment and for discussion on recently published material.

The papers include many examples of MacSweeney's journalism with articles by him whilst working on various provincial newspapers throughout the 1970's and 1980's, many preserved in scrapbooks dating between the 1970's to 1990's and articles written as the North of England correspondent, mainly to Lloyd's Shipping Lists concerning Tyne shipping and the shipping industry in general, with some photographs.

His library of books and journals have been donated to the Department of English Literary and Linguistic Studies within the University of Newcastle. See under Related Units of Description below for access to this library.

Administrative / Biographical History

Barry MacSweeney, poet, was born in 1948 in Newcastle upon Tyne and attended Rutherford Grammar School. He left school at 16 to become a cub reporter on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and then moved on to study journalism at Harlow Technical College in 1966. He subsequently worked on various provincial newspapers including the South Kentish Times, the Evening Dispatch, Darlington and the South Shields Gazette. He later worked as a freelance journalist, contributing to national newspapers and most recently worked as the North of England correspondent for the shipping and insurance newspaper Lloyd's Lists.

As a poet, MacSweeney commenced writing early and, as a consequence of maturing in Newcastle during the 1960's was influenced by the vigour of the poetry scene at that time. At the offices of the Chronicle he came into contact with Basil Bunting who was then working as sub editor. Bunting's poetry, and those of younger contemporaries, could be heard at the Morden Tower, an enterprise set up by Tom Pickard and his wife Connie, who organised readings by influential local, national and international poets. MacSweeney was both contributor and participant at these readings and, following from his organising a poetry event in the Summer of 1967, his first book of poems The boy from the Green Cabaret tells of his mother was published by Hutchinsons in 1968 under the New Authors series. The book was well received and sold well and at 19MacSweeney was catapulted into the public domain by being nominated for the Oxford Chair of Poetry by Hutchinsons. It was a pure publicity stunt; MacSweeney received three votes, but lost a lot more personally. Afterwards he found it difficult to be published by mainstream publishers and set up his own press, Blacksuede Boot Press in 1970. He published prolifically during the 1970's and 1980's, some published as short works, others as parts of mixed anthologies or in small presses or little magazines with small or local distribution. His style was both urban and naturalistic and reflected the love of the city, in particular Newcastle, but it also reflected his great awareness of the land and sea on the city's peripheries.

After the debacle of the Poetry Chair in 1968, MacSweeney looked towards the Cambridge school of poets, particularly Jeremy Prynne, who was a close friend for many years, in the development of his poetic style and some of the archive material relates to material passed between this group.

In the 1990's with the publication by mainstream publishers of Pearl and The book of demons he was recognised as a talent by a new audience and in 1997 he received the Paul Hamlyn Award for The book of demons. In 1996 he was runner up in the Northern Arts Artist of the Year Award.

In 1967, aged 19, he hosted the Sparty Lea Poetry Festival, near Allenheads, Northumberland and brought together a variety of poets including Jeremy Prynne, Tom Pickard, Connie Pickard, Andrew Crozier, Peter Riley, John Hall and Pete Armstrong.

He served as chairman of the Poetry Society during the mid 1970's, taught journalism and tutored in creative writing in the 1970's and worked as voluntary tutor in adult literacy in Newcastle in the late 1980's.

Alcohol dependence and subsequent ill health led to his early death in May 2000.

Select bibliography of MacSweeney's published works :

The boy from the Green Cabaret tells of his mother (1968); The last bud (1969); Just 22 and I don't mind dying (1971); Brother wolf (1972); Fools gold (1972); Black torch (1973); Odes : 1971-1978 (1978); Ranter (1985); Pearl (1995); The book of demons (1997).

For a complete bibliography of works by MacSweeney up to 1997 see The book of demons.


The papers have not yet been catalogued. A brief handlist of the material is available, but see below for access conditions.

Conditions Governing Access

The papers are not fully catalogued and are not yet open to researchers. Limited access, at the discretion of the Special Collections Librarian, may be granted under certain circumstances. Appointment in advance and proof of identity required.

Acquisition Information

The papers were given to the library by the family of Barry MacSweeney in May 2001.

Additional material in the form of small gifts to the archive have been given by Robert Sheppard, Nate Dorward and Peter Riley.


Description complied by Helen Arkwright, Manuscripts and Archives Librarian, February 2002.

Other Finding Aids

Material not yet fully catalogued. Handlist available in the Enright Reading Room ref. : BM.

Conditions Governing Use


The library can provide photocopies (to a limit of 30 at any one time) for educational and private research purposes, provided the condition of the document does not prevent copying. Alternatively, photographic or digital images can be produced for educational and private research purposes. Please contact the Special Collections Librarian for further advice (email:


Permission to make published use of any material from Special Collections must be sought in writing from the Special Collections Librarian (email: and from the copyright owner if appropriate. The copyright of material in the MacSweeney Papers and any of Barry MacSweeney's works remains with the MacSweeney family. The library will assist in contacting the copyright owners on users behalf, but the responsibility to obtain copyright clearance rests with the user.

Related Material

University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Department of English Literary and Linguistic Studies:The library of Barry MacSweeney is now housed in DELLS. The material includes MacSweeney's reference, fiction and literary collections as well as a substantial collection of poetry magazines and small press material. Access is available by appointment only. More information is available at :

London University : Kings College Archives:

Recordings and material by Barry MacSweeney in the Eric Mottram Collection ref. : KCLCA MOTTRAM.


Various articles in journals including Maxy's journal, Modernism and modern writing, Poetry information, Angel exhaust.

Critical studies of MacSweeney's work :

Out of dissent : a study of five contemporary British poets by Clive Bush. London : Talus, 1997.

Worlds of measure : a anthology of five contemporary British poets by Clive Bush. London : Talus, 1997.

New British poetries : the scope of the possible ed. by Peter Hampson and Peter Barry. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 1993.