School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

Barry MacSweeney Archive

Barry MacSweeney Archive

School Archives

The material collected in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics consists of Barry MacSweeney's personal library, which was donated to the School in 2001.

The library includes hundreds of books, poetry pamphlets, poetry journals, music and photographs that Barry collected over his lifetime.

The poetry pamphlets and journals may be of considerable interest to researchers as, in many cases, they are the products of small or privately run local presses.

The archive is a particularly rich resource for those researchers working in the areas of contemporary British poetry and the poetry of the North East of England.

The MacSweeney Archive contains a diverse mix of established and lesser known writers and includes poetry books and pamphlets by such notable figures as Basil Bunting, J.H. Prynne and Eric Mottram.

It is also an excellent resource for the thriving creative writing and postgraduate communities within our School.

The Eric Mottram Collection in King's College Archives, University of London, also holds recordings and other material by Barry MacSweeney.

Access and contact information

The MacSweeney Archive is open and details of the content are available on application. Proof of identity is required for access and please ensure appointments are booked in advance.

Please note that books cannot be borrowed or removed from the archive.

For an appointment to visit the archive, email Mrs Rowena Bryson at the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, or call +44 (0)191 208 7761.

Applications may also be made in writing to:

School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics
Percy Building
Newcastle University
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 7RU
United Kingdom

Library Archives

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. This includes material from Clive Bush, Pete Bland, Tim Fletcher, Nicholas Johnson, Jackie Litherland, Maggie O'Sullivan, Eric Mottram, Elaine Randall, Jeremy Prynne and Chris Torrence.

It also includes letters from his immediate family, letters and publication agreements from publishers, and correspondence relating to the Poetry Society.

The papers feature many examples of MacSweeney's journalism, including articles written for provincial newspapers throughout the 1970s.

Many of the press cuttings and some photographs are preserved in scrapbooks dating between the 1970s to 1990s. The scrapbooks also contain articles written by Barry as the North of England correspondent for Lloyd's Shipping Lists, which concern Tyne shipping and the shipping industry in general.

The papers also include a considerable amount of published and unpublished material by other poets. This includes recently published material sent to Barry for commentary and discussion.

The papers also incorporate a large number of poetry magazines and review publications. Many of these items are now housed in the MacSweeney Archive, within our School.

The MacSweeney Archive is a separate collection of Barry's books, journals and music. The Library is open to researchers who will find a description of the contents and access conditions given below.

The papers are in the process of being catalogued. A brief handlist of the material is available, but see below for access conditions.

Access 

The Barry MacSweeney Papers are held in the Special Collections department of Newcastle University Library. The papers are not yet 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.

All inquiries regarding the MacSweeney Papers should be directed to the Special Collections Librarian at the Robinson Library, Newcastle University, Back Jesmond Road West, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4RU, +44 (0)191 208 5146.

Reproduction

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. Contact the Special Collections Librarian for further advice.

Copyright

Permission to make published use of any material from The Barry MacSweeney Papers must be sought in writing from the Special Collections Librarian and from the copyright owner.

The copyright of material in the MacSweeney Papers and of works by Barry MacSweeney remains with the MacSweeney family.

The responsibility to obtain copyright clearance rests with the user. Barry MacSweeney's brother, Paul McSweeney, can be contacted by email and is happy to answer further enquires.

Biography

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 1960s, 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 19, MacSweeney 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 1970s and 1980s, 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. In particular, MacSweeney became close friends with Jeremy Prynne but the group as a whole can be seen to have influenced the development of MacSweeney's poetic style. Some of the archive material relates to material passed between this group.

In the 1990s, with the publication by mainstream publishers of Pearl and The Book of Demons, he was recognised as a talent by a new audience. 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, Barry MacSweeney hosted the Sparty Lea Poetry Festival near Allenheads, Northumberland. The Festival was a huge success, bringing together a wide variety of poets including Jeremy Prynne, Tom Pickard, Connie Pickard, Andrew Crozier, Peter Riley, John Hall and Pete Armstrong.

During the mid 1970s MacSweeney served as chairman of the Poetry Society, whilst also teaching journalism and creative writing. In the 1980s Barry went on to work as a voluntary tutor in adult literacy in Newcastle.

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

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.

Selected Bibliography

There are a number of publications Barry MacSweeney was well-known for, including:

  • 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.

MacSweeney also contributed various articles to journals including Maxy's Journal, Modernism and Modern Writing, Poetry Information and Angel Exhaust.

Critical studies of MacSweeney's work

Studies include:

  • Clive Bush, Out of Dissent: A Study of Five Contemporary British Poets (London: Talus, 1997).
  • Clive Bush, Worlds of Measure: An Anthology of Five Contemporary British Poets (London: Talus, 1997).
  • Peter Hampson and Peter Barry, eds. New British Poetries: The Scope of the Possible (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993).