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.