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Authors: Barry MacSweeney

Wolf tongue

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Barry MacSweeney’s last book,The Book of Demons, recorded his fierce fight against alcoholism as well as the great love of thosewho helped save his life – though only for three more years. When he died in 2000,he had just assembled a retrospective of his work.Wolf Tongueis his own selection, with the addition of the two late books which many regard ashis finest work,PearlandThe Book of Demons. Most of his poetry was out-of-print, and much had never been widely published. Thetitle is his. The cover picture, he hunted down himself.Wolf Tongueis how he wanted to be known and remembered.


‘Barry MacSweeney was a contrary, lone wolf. For 25 years his work was marginalisedand was absent from official records of poetry… MacSweeney’s ear for a soaring, lyricmelody was unmatched…his poetry became dark as blue steel, edging towards what becamehis domain: the lament’ – Nicholas Johnson,Independent.


‘His notion of the artist was formed around a myth of exemplary failure and belatedrecognition: Rimbaud was an early model for this… Such Identifications were the basisfor a poetics of direct utterance in which MacSweeney’s voice mixed with others toinveigh, to celebrate or entreat…Pearl, a work of redemptive pathos, evoking the figure of a childhood sweetheart as a presencein nature, on the confines of social existence, was reprinted inThe Book of Demons, where he projects himself as maimed and abject, hapless yet percipient victim ofthe demon drink, in writing that is both comic and terrifying’ – Andrew Crozier,Guardian.


‘MacSweeney’s poetry places a radical, critical energy, unsparing of illusions, andbitter and comic in its self-appraisal, at the disposal of a clear-eyed celebrationof the world. In lyrical and experimental forms the poet bears outraged witness toa culture in decline…as battered prophet, demonic wanderer and clown of misspent desire’– Clive Bush.

Barry MacSweeney




Title Page

Note on the text


Early Poems[1965–1973]

For Andrei Voznesensky, for her

On the Burning Down of the Salvation Army Men’s Palace, Dogs Bank, Newcastle

The Last Bud

Just Twenty Two – And I Don’t Mind Dying

Brother Wolf

Homage to John Everett, Marine Painter, 1876–1949



Flame Ode

Wing Ode

New Ode

Chatterton Ode

Jim Morrison Ode

Swedenborg Ode


Moon Ode

Chatterton Ode

Ode Long Kesh

Flame Ode


Ode to the Unborn

Snake Paint Sky

Ode Grey Rose

Dunce Ode

Ode Stem Hair

Panther Freckles

Ode Peace Fog

Disease Ode Carrot Hair

Fox Brain Apple Ode

Lash Ode

Vixen Head / What Small Hands

Beak Ode


Flame Ode


Ode White Sail

Ode Black Spur

Mia Farrow

Viper Suck Ode

Real Ode

Blossom Ode:Eltham Palace

Dream Graffiti

Wolf Tongue


Longer poems[1977–1986]

Black Torch Sunrise

Far Cliff Babylon


Colonel B

Liz Hard

Liz Hard II

Jury Vet

Wild Knitting




Snipe Drumming

Ranter’s Reel


Finnbar’s Lament


Hellhound Memos(1993)

[1] ‘Sunk in my darkness at daylight’

[2] ‘Sunk at my crossroads, hellhounds baying’

[3] ‘Me the multiplex moron, multigenerational’

[4] ‘The very low odour tough acrylic formula’

[8] ‘Now that the vast furtherance of widespread publicity’

[9] ‘God bless you little girl the lean dry hand’

[10] ‘Trouble on all side today up and down’

[11] Linda Manning Is a Whore

[13] Shaking Minds with Robespierre

[18] Wringing the Shingle

[19] ‘Vapour rises from the ducts and flues, ashen and feathered’



Looking Down From The West Window

Sweet Jesus: Pearl’s Prayer

Pearl’s Utter Brilliance

Pearl Says

No Such Thing

Mony Ryal Ray

No Buses To Damascus

Pearl Suddenly Awake


The Shells Her Auburn Hair Did Show

Pearl Alone

Cavalry At Calvary

From The Land Of Tumblestones

Dark Was The Night And Cold Was The Ground

Pearl And Barry Pick Rosehips For The Good Of The Country

Those Sandmartin Tails

Woe, Woe, Woe

Blizzard: So Much Bad Fortune

Lost Pearl

Pearl’s Poem Of Joy And Treasure

Pearl At 4am

Pearl’s Final Say-So


The Book of Demons(1997)

Ode To Beauty Strength And Joy And In Memory OfThe Demons

Free Pet With Every Cage

Buying Christmas Wrapping Paper On January 12

We Offer You One Third Off Plenitude

Daddy Wants To Murder Me

Angel Showing Lead Shot Damage

Shreds Of Mercy/The Merest Shame

In With The Stasi

Pasolini Demon Memo

Nil By Mouth: The Tongue Poem

Demons In My Pocket

The Horror

Demons Swarm Upon Our Man And Tell The World He’sLost

Hooray Demons Salute The Forever Lost Parliament Of Barry And Jacqueline

When The Candles Were Lit

Pearl Against The Barbed Wire

Nothing Are These Times

Dead Man’s Handle

Himself Bright Starre Northern Within

Anne Sexton Blues

Your Love Is A Swarm And An Unbeguiled Swanne

Strap Down In Snowville

Sweeno, Sweeno

Up a Height And Raining

Tom In The Market Square Outside Boots

John Bunyan To Johnny Rotten


Uncollected Poems[1983/1997–1998]

La Rage

Don’t Leave Me

When The Lights Went Out A Cheer Rose in the Air

Sweet Advocate


Postcards from Hitler[1998]

The Final Bavarian Hilltop Postcard

The Amazing Eagle Has Landed

Blitzkrieg Homage

Let the Thunder Roll

Whatever Madness There Is Is

Brown stamps forever


Uncollected Poems[1998–1999]

I Looked Down On a Child Today

Totem Banking

Here We Go


Pearl in the Silver Morning(1999)

Cushy Number

Bare Feet In Marigolds

Daft Patter

Pearl In The Silver Morning

We Are Not Stones



Barry MacSweeney: Bibliography



Barry MacSweeney made his selection for this book in May 1999, intending to add somework in progress, so thatWolf Tonguecould be subtitledSelected Poems1965–2000. Some aspects of the selection were left undecided at the time of his death in 2000.

The arrangement of the poems is his, except for the order of later work, which reflectswhen those poems were written, as well as his wish to end the book withPearl in the Silver Morning(Poetical Histories no.49, Cambridge, 1999).The Book of Demons(Bloodaxe Books, 1997) would have formed a companion volume toWolf Tongue: the whole of that book (including all ofPearl) has been added to the selection Barry made from his other work.

The selection covering the period 1965 to 1986 reprints all the work (except ‘FoolsGold’) included in the ill-fated three-poet volumeTheTempers of Hazard(Paladin, 1993), withdrawn shortly after “publication” by HarperCollins and immediately pulped when Iain Sinclair’s poetry list was axed.The early work includes ‘The Last Bud’, fromOur Mutual Scarlet Boulevard(Fulcrum Press, 1971), and Barry also wanted two poems from his first collection,The Boy from the Green Cabaret Tells of His Mother(Hutchinson, 1968), to be added to this grouping, ‘For Andrei Voznesensky, for her’and ‘On the Burning Down of the Salvation Army Men’s Palace, Dogs Bank, Newcastle’,as well as ‘Homage to John Everett, Marine Painter’, whose only previous publicationwas inPoetry Review(64/2, Summer 1973), then edited by Eric Mottram.Finnbar’s Lamentis placed later as the ‘comet’s tail’ toRanter(Slow Dancer Press, 1985).

Barry did not intend to include all the poems fromOdes(Trigram 1978), but left no notes regarding cuts. His only instructions concerneda small number of poems which were definitely to be included, as well as his wishto move ‘Just Twenty Two – And I Don’t Mind Dying’ and ‘Far Cliff Babylon’ to theirnew positions in this selection. Several of his friends and past editors were consultedfor their opinions as to which poems fromOdesmight be cut, and we have followed theconsensusview that the sequence should be made available to readers again in its entirety.TheSix Odes(1973) selected fromOdes(1978) forThe Tempers of Hazard(1993) follow the later published texts.

Barry only wanted ‘Black Torch Sunrise’ included fromBlack Torch(New London Pride Editions, 1977), followed by ‘Far Cliff Babylon’ fromOdes, and then ‘Blackbird’ (Pig Press, 1980) as ‘Book 2 ofBlack Torch’. Five other long pieces from the ‘Work’ section ofThe Tempers of Hazardcomplete the selection of longer poems from the period1977–1986.

Eight to ten (unspecified) poems were to be included fromHellhoundMemos(Many Press, 1993). The eleven poems selected here are those he chose to includein several readings.

The six poems selected fromPostcards from Hitlerwere all written or finished over two days in March 1998, and later published byWriters Forum in 1999. The earlier poem ‘La Rage’ appeared inSlowDancer(erroneously as ‘Le Rage’) in 1983, and was placed before other later uncollectedpoems. ‘Sweet Advocate’ was published by Equipage in 1999. ‘Totem Banking’ was acceptedfor publication by Salt and will appear inVanishing Pointsin 2003.

‘When The Lights Went Out A Cheer Rose in the Air’ was first published with a pagemissing inFragmente, and then complete inFat Cityand corrected inFragmente. The text here incorporates some later manuscript alterations and other changes includedin a reading Barry recorded in October 1997, when he glossed the title as from a commentmade by country musician and onetime State Penitentiary inmate Steve Earle, who ‘hada line which says “When the lights go out a cheer rose in the air” in the prisonsbecause when they turned on the power to the electric chair it meant that all of theelectricity in the rest of the systems drained and all of the prisoners cheered thesoul of the dead man to Valhalla’.

Barry also specified that this selection should not include ‘any of the other 150unpublished poems in mss’, nor any of the mostlyunpublished‘Mary Bell Sonnets’, and ‘no translations’. The BarryMacSweeneyArchive, generously donated to Newcastle University by his family, includes all thepoet’s manuscripts of published andunpublishedwork, together with his personal collection of books including copies of all hispublications.

The convention used in this book for dating poems is that round brackets indicatepublication and square brackets show when work was written. Italicised dates and otherdetails printed at the end of certain poems are the poet’s own annotations. Idiosyncraticspellings, from cavalier to mock medieval, are faithful to Barry MacSweeney’s fanciesor flourishes.

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