Barry MacSweeney grew up in the west end of Newcastle. He worked as a professional journalist throughout most of his life. He met poet Basil Bunting in the mid-1960s and formed part of a local group of poets including Tom Pickard, Jon Silkin and Jeremy Prynne. Aged 19, his first book of poetry The Boy from the Green Cabaret sold well and his publishers, Hutchinsons, nominated him for the Chair in Poetry at Oxford. Unwittingly, he found himself to be the recipient of a publisher’s publicity stunt and received only three votes. It took half a lifetime for his reputation to recover. He died in May 2000.

His epic poem Ranter written in 1984 evokes the marginalized voices of mid-seventeenth century political and religious radicals who considered the poorest beggars, even ‘rogues, thieves, whores, and cut purses’ as ‘every whit as good’ as the great ones of the earth. This sect known as The Ranters believed that faith itself alone was sufficient to attain salvation, making adherence to religious law unnecessary and thus rejecting the notion of obedience, making them a threat to the stability of the government.

Brian Gibson reads the first part of Barry MacSweeny’s Ranter alongside extracts of text written by Abiezer Coppe and Jacob Bauthumley in 1650.


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