Barry MacSweeney’s last book, The Book of Demons, recorded his fierce fight against alcoholism as well as the great love of those who 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 Tongue is his own selection, with the addition of the two late books which many regard as his finest work, Pearl and The Book of Demons. Most of his poetry was out-of-print, and much had never been widely published. The title is his. The cover picture, he hunted down himself. Wolf Tongue is how he wanted to be known and remembered.
'Barry MacSweeney was a contrary, lone wolf. For 25 years his work was marginalised and was absent from official records of poetry…MacSweeney’s ear for a soaring, lyric melody was unmatched…his poetry became dark as blue steel, edging towards what became his domain: the lament' – Nicholas Johnson, Independent.
'His notion of the artist was formed around a myth of exemplary failure and belated recognition: Rimbaud was an early model for this…Such identifications were the basis for a poetics of direct utterance in which MacSweeney’s voice mixed with others to inveigh, to celebrate or entreat… Pearl, a work of redemptive pathos, evoking the figure of a childhood sweetheart as a presence in nature, on the confines of social existence, was reprinted in The Book of Demons, where he projects himself as maimed and abject, hapless yet percipient victim of the demon drink, in writing that is both comic and terrifying' – Andrew Crozier, Guardian.
'MacSweeney’s poetry places a radical, critical energy, unsparing of illusions, and bitter and comic in its self-appraisal, at the disposal of a clear-eyed celebration of the world. In lyrical and experimental forms the poet bears outraged witness to a culture in decline…as battered prophet, demonic wanderer and clown of misspent desire' – Clive Bush.