The Poet of Sparty Lea: In Search of Barry MacSweeney
Young poet Tom Chivers reclaims the reputation of counter-cultural poet Barry MacSweeney, who wrote his first poem at seven, began a lifelong struggle with solitary hard drinking at 16 and was nominated for the Oxford Poetry Chair at 18.
A protÃÂ©gÃÂ©e of Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting, he was a regular at the Morden Tower in Newcastle along with Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Allen Ginsberg, and Ed Dorn. MacSweeney was a man of contradictions; a Romantic poet, a political journalist who raged against the world but also a naturalist whose writing was rooted in the Northumbrian landscape. His refusal to engage with the Establishment was incompatible with commercial or mainstream success, and he died an alcoholic's death, on the fringes of the poetry scene.
A 16-year-old Tom Chivers encountered MacSweeney at what would turn out to be his final poetry reading; a week later he was dead. Now Tom goes on a personal journey to explore the life and work of his hero. Travelling to the Northumbrian landscape which anchored MacSweeney's work, Tom investigates why his radical style was never palatable to the mainstream but also why his work still appeals to a new generation of poets today.