Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More on MacSweeney

I really must check my blog comments more often. The following post consists of the comment posted by Jackie Litherland in response to the discussion of the recent BBC Radio programme on Barry MacSweeney. Ms Litherland was Barry MacSweeney's partner in his last years, and is the dedicatee of 'The Book of Demons'.

"The type of programme described by Alan about Barry's poetics we would all love to hear. As Tom said you could have several programmes about Barry and why not? Music has just this kind of coverage on Radio 3. I have always been bemused that poetry is not given the same serious space.
I thought, however, that in 30 minutes, Tom and the producers managed to give a taste of Barry and his work.
As to the reference to Barry's alcoholism, it is not a side show away from the main stage. Barry wrote The Book of Demons to make sure that did not happen. It is not just a question of separating the poetry from his life, the poetry is the pain, just as in Owen's work the poetry is the pity.
Barry was never one to shirk a fight. Once he started to try to renounce the demon drink, he threw himself into the cause. I use the language of messianic zeal deliberately.
Of course a complicated and complex poet and man such as Barry saw the humour and irony of such a battle as well as its terrible consequences.
He wasn't ashamed of his alcoholism, he was part of a movement that treated it as an illness.
As for Sean's presence in the programme, I thought his comment about Barry having no skin was very perceptive.
The Poetry Book Society Recommendation for The Book of Demons came from Sean (who was one of two judges) who wrote a strong appreciation of the book.
The reference to 'a bucket of lava flung over the listener' in his poem Coffinboat quoted on the programme is not about Barry's reading style but about his late night telephone calls.
Sean told me he was moved to tears when he heard Barry read his Pearl poems at Morden Tower.
However I do agree that a poet from within the avant garde circle that Barry belonged to should have been interviewed. Ric Caddel would have been the ideal candidate had he lived. But Maggie O'Sullivan, Nicholas Johnson come to mind."

Jackie Litherland

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