Barry MacSweeney was a wanderer, an outsider, a poète maudit with a magpie mind. He was born in Benwell, one of the most underprivileged areas of Newcastle upon Tyne, England on July 17th 1948. He died only two miles from his birthplace in Denton Burn on May 9th 2000, aged 51. His poetry was as brilliant as it was diverse. At his best, he could stand toe to toe with the great English poets of his age. He was a prolific writer, yet at the time of his death, almost all of his works were out of print, and his poetry had received little critical attention.
The poem which inspired us to publish Northern Wanderer was “After Breakfast (With Peter) Costing 5/6d” which appeared in Mr. MacSweeney’s first collection of poetry, The Boy from the Green Cabaret Tells of his Mother (1968), the relative success of which prompted his publisher, Hutchinson, to nominate him for the Chair of Poetry at Oxford University.
“After Breakfast…” is a pastiche of Frank O’Hara’s “A Step Away from Them,” the walking poem from which StepAway Magazine takes its name. Mr. MacSweeney’s after breakfast wander, however, takes place in his hometown of Newcastle upon Tyne, beginning outside the Cloth Market Café and ending outside the Green Market. Even in this early work, the poet demonstrates what Nicholas Johnson describes as an ability to “observe a situation in a split, if sometimes refracted, second”.
Two years after his death, Bloodaxe Books published Wolf Tongue: Selected Poems 1965-2000, which brought much of Mr. MacSweeney’s poetry back to print. Sadly, “After Breakfast…” was not included in the collection. It is therefore a great honour and pleasure to be given the opportunity to republish “After Breakfast (With Peter) Costing 5/6d” here in our Northern Wanderer issue. I would like to express my utmost gratitude to the family of Barry MacSweeney for allowing us permission to publish the poem online. I would also like to thank Neil Astley and Suzanne Fairless-Aitken at Bloodaxe Books for their support and advice.
Northern Wanderer is a celebration and rediscovery of Barry MacSweeney’s work. After reading “After Breakfast…” I urge you to lay your hands on a copy of Wolf Tongue, the title of which was chosen by Mr. MacSweeney himself, the “contrary, lone wolf”.
Northern Wanderer is also a way of encouraging contemporary northern writers to follow in Barry MacSweeney’s footsteps, to explore and observe the North East of England on foot. The issue will open with “After Breakfast…” followed by a series of new poems about walking in Newcastle upon Tyne and the surrounding area.
Stevie Ronnie’s “A Night in Morden Tower” is a winter walk to one of the oldest poetry venues in England. Located in Back Stowell Street on the West Walls of Newcastle upon Tyne, Morden Tower has played host to many celebrated poets including Ted Hughes, Basil Bunting, Seamus Heaney and Allen Ginsberg. The sixteen-year-old Barry MacSweeney was inspired by the readings he attended here.
Ira Lightman’s “Consulting Barry’s Chapbooks in Newcastle Library Local Studies” is a fragmented literary journey through Newcastle from his parking bay to the fourth floor of the library. The line order of his poem is dictated by order in which the streets appear on his walk: “WORSWICK to CARLIOL Square, MARKET to PILGRIM. NORTHUMBERLAND along LISLE to JOHN DOBSON”. He comments on how the poem “conveys the way that humans now both see the streets, and their thoughts, and their anticipations (I was anticipating reading Barry MacSweeney’s chapbooks) and going online on their mobile devices as they walk”. His duties as a father also intrude as he navigates the city streets.
Bob Beagrie recently worked on a project with Crisis Skylight writing a play with the homeless. As part of the sequence, he wrote “Tracking the Tramp” while wandering around Newcastle and thinking about how people are effected when homelessness strikes.
Ian Davidson’s “Rolling down the river” is a stroll along the river Tyne which examines a rapidly gentrifying Newcastle. Passing by the British Engines factory and the Baltic, the poem marks the location where the city’s industrial heritage collides with its rapidly developing cultural centre. “The question of naming it” by Lizzie Whyman is also a drift downstream, ending at the Free Trade Inn perched high over a bend in the River Tyne. Finally, Keith Parker’s “Coastal Town, Cold Sunday Night,” is a nocturnal wander through Whitley Bay, a North Tyneside seaside town famed for its raucous nightlife.
Our cover photograph is courtesy of local photographer Andy Siddens. Mr. Siddens spent a number of weeks walking in the city and capturing its street life. This spectacular shot of walkers on Newcastle’s quayside was taken from the Tyne Bridge as a setting autumn sun cast long shadows across the paving stones. Mr. Siddens’s remarkable portfolio can be viewed here.
We consider Bob Beagrie, Ian Davidson, Keith Parker, Stevie Ronnie, Andy Siddens and Lizzie Whyman to be the founding contributors to Northern Wanderer. However, we intend for this project to grow. Northern Wanderer will remain open to submissions. New North East walking narratives will be added on a quarterly basis, to coincide with the publication of StepAway Magazine. Northern Wanderer will become a repository of poetry and prose devoted to walking in the North East. Submissions should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope that you enjoy Northern Wanderer as an introduction to the home of StepAway Magazine, Newcastle upon Tyne, and to the work of the talented and sadly missed poet Barry MacSweeney.
Darren Richard Carlaw
StepAway Magazine would also like to thank: Apples & Snakes North East, Arts Council North East, Bloodaxe Books, Dr. John Beck, Olivia Chapman, Newcastle University, New Writing North, Northumbria University, Dr. Penny Smith, Poetry Newcastle, Jonny Tull, The Tyneside Cinema and Writer’s Block North East.