Paul Batchelor’s edition of essays about Barry MacSweeney is here at last from Bloodaxe Books as number 13 in their Newcastle / Bloodaxe Poetry Series and the opening paragraph of the editor’s introduction is immediately spot on:
‘The last full-length collection that Barry MacSweeney lived to see published was The Book of Demons. Many of the most impressive aspects of this volume—the intricate symbology, the vertiginous swoop of registers, the unsparing wit, the complexity of characterisation, the syntactical resourcefulness—had been earned over a lifetime of restless self-testing; but this same restlessness simultaneously gives the book the kind of daring, hubristic, allusive, raw dazzle usually associated with a precocious first collection. The book draws its power from such contradictions: a chronicle of failure, it has a swaggering confidence; a departure, it felt to many like a homecoming’.
This is a wide-ranging book and it should certainly reawaken interest in a poète maudit from the North-East whose area of focus ranged from Chatterton to Bob Dylan, from Seventeenth-Century nonconformist radicals to the social consequences of Thatcherism, from Mary Bell to Apollinaire.
This fine introduction to MacSweeney contains essays by Harriet Tarlo, Matthew Jarvis, Andrew Duncan, William Walton Rowe, John Wilkinson, Peter Riley, W.N. Herbert, Terry Kelly and Jackie Litherland as well as by the editor himself.
Among the cast who do not make an appearance my biggest regret is to see nothing from Luke Roberts but, of course, this volume has certainly been talked about for some years now and it may well be that he was not on the tracks of ‘Pookah Swoony Sweeney Swan Ludlunatic’ back then. However, I am hoping that I can persuade him to write a review of this new book for the next issue of Tears!
Ian Brinton, December 17th 2013.