The Poetry Kit MAGAZINE
Barry Fitton is an extraordinary original innovative and challenging English poet who has traveled and performed his poetry all over the world. He now lives in Amsterdam.
I was asked if I would like to interview him by Jim Bennett, and of course I said yes. The interview was conducted via the telephone over a period of weeks. Barry was gracious enough to answer my questions as best he could given that he is seriously ill. Having actually died on the operating table, the Dutch doctors worked for twenty minutes to resuscitate him. He joked that if he had been in the UK they would have given up after seven minutes!
Barely alive, he spent the next two weeks in a coma.
Mick: So Barry. How are you doing?
Barry: There was four operations man! When I woke up I was totally blind. Then I spent another five weeks paralysed, only able to move my fingers. It is taking a long time to recover, so no performances or writing since then.
MICK: How’s your eyesight now?
BARRY: Not very good. My emails are converted into large print and I can enlarge text on some websites. And I am learning to use this voice recognition software which is incredible for me because my finger dexterity is nothing anymore. The end of my fingers don’t work. It’s like one side of my body will work but not in conjunction with the other side of my body. my eyes don’t work properly, my optic nerves were damage, so one eye sees completely different from the other. So I can read anymore which really pisses me off. I mean like poetry and prose even.
Growing up in Rochdale
Mick: Where were you born and brought up?
BARRY: I’m from Rochdale. You must know Rochdale? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochdale)
MICK: I do indeed. They’ve got a good market there.
BARRY: I used to have a stall in Rochdale Market.
MICK: What did you sell?
BARRY: Oh, I don’t know. Hard to remember now…
Then I had that shop, the so-called book shop. And I used to also run a cat rescue. I had two stalls there, one stall was to get money for the cat rescue fund, and the other one was mine. Incense and hippy trippy stuff, crystals And stuff like that.
MICK: What was it like growing up in Rochdale?
BARRY: First of all I was the odd one out in school. I was a little chubby guy. With glasses. I was the bully’s punch bag.
But Rochdale yeah. I have good memories of Rochdale mate. Like I wrote this poem about Rochdale, about the old times. The old fair grounds and travelling fairs. And the Rochdale Hippodrome which then turned into a cinema, then to a bingo hall, and then it was demolished.
MICK: Same old story.
BARRY: Ahh. But it’s nice being near the moors. That’s what I miss man. That’s what I really miss because Holland is so flat! And you know every weekend I’d get on my bike and go out on the moors, with a little camping stove and a blanket. (laughs)
MICK: Oh brilliant. So if you were being bullied and stuff, do think that getting away on your bike up into the moors and all the rest of it kind of made, or brought out the poet in you?
BARRY: Well no, I mean I got away to get away from my fucking… house. You know. I mean I had a father who used to hit me across the head and say stop reading and go out and play football.
MICK: Oh that was nice.
BARRY: That was kind of involvement I had with my father.
More Rochdale - Later
BARRY: But yeah. Rochdale...
I went back a few months ago for my daughter’s wedding reception. That was amazing. I don’t know how they afforded it. They rented Rochdale Town Hall. The whole entrance, the stair case, the grand hall, that was amazing, and a few other rooms as well.
MICK: That was your daughter was it? Your suppose to pay for the wedding aren’t you if you’re the dad? !! (laughs)
BARRY: (laughs) Yeah well. I gave her three hundred and fifty quid towards it.
MICK: It all helps I suppose. Pay for the beer.
BARRY: I was involved with some people in Rochdale we had a club called the Cubi-klub. (see ‘Rochdale’ in ‘I Leave No Footsteps Behind Me’) And then we opened another one in the old Majestic Ballroom in Birkenhead.
MICK: So when did you first begin to write poetry?
BARRY: I suppose… I wrote my first poem, which got published, when I was nine years old.
MICK: That’s good! What was that in?
BARRY: My English teacher sent it off to a magazine which was I think government sponsored, and it was distributed to every school in England. And it was called the Young Elizabethan if I remember correctly.
Yeah, so that was published and I didn’t really think about writing poetry again for a long time, until probably when I started travelling.
MICK: So did any particular writers have an influence on you?
BARRY: Steinbeck, DH Lawrence. And W H Davis. Autobiography of a Super-Tramp.
MICK: That was a good book.
BARRY: You read it?
BARRY: And you read the poems in the back?
MICK: Absolutely. For its time, it was revolutionary, when it came out.
BARRY: Oh yeah. And there was another one, a second book, can’t remember the title. (Leisure) I never got hold of it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._H._Davies)
And of course Kerouac’s On the Road. Standard for everybody .. I suppose. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Road)
We’ll have to get back to that question later. It’s when things pop into my head I’ll have to tell you...
MICK: Yeah.. just when it happens, let it happen….
MICK: How do you write. I mean do you have a favourite time of day or anything for writing?
BARRY: I don’t know. Spontaneous? I mean I haven’t written anything since I was ill. I just lost my creativity. It’s slowly coming back.
MICK: Yeah, well I hope it is.
BARRY: You know and it’s also the difficulty of putting things down, and concentration and stuff.
BARRY: But how I used to write. I mean I’d maybe waking down the street and a line or something would suddenly come into my head, and I would expand on that. Sometimes I’d write for twenty four hours continuously. Go back a couple of weeks later and either reject it or think OK this is alright. I maybe change something or change something there.
Like when I would perform a piece, I mean each line itself is …. each line is a separate entity in the performance. You understand?
MICK: Totally yeah. For me walking, or driving around, just the physical sensation of movement, helps me write. You know when you said about walking around, do you think movement helps get you going ?
BARRY: Hmm. In my case… I don’t think so. I mean the atmosphere. The weather, is important. You know if I was up on the moors, I knew when I was about twelve years old to get off the moor. So I would walk through the rain. And god it was amazing…
You know one of the most amazing experiences I ever had was when I was walking in the foothills of the Himalayas, and there was this electric storm. It scared the hell out of me. The power and the majesty of it, you know. Lightening crashing from peak to peak. Thunder just crashing over you and you were so close to it, it vibrated through your whole body! And especially if you’d had a smoke! Yeah that was really good.
Banned in the USA
Barry: I’d been working with this Lesbian poet (Joke Kaviaar) for about a year,
(http://www.jokekaviaar.nl/) doing these dual dialogues and sometimes involving the audience. And we decided we’d send a demo off to various places in the states and see what the reaction was, and it was pretty good. So then I planned this tour right across America starting in New York.
When I arrived at New York I was promptly arrested! And I thought what the fuck’s going on here. But they gave me this paper which more or less said that I could not enter the United States for the rest of my life. And they wouldn’t tell me why. They were pretty heavy actually. It was that long after 9/11.
There were two guys, playing nice cop bad cop, and I hadn’t eaten or anything I was dying for a cigarette so I asked could we go somewhere and he said yeah sure, and he bought me a fuckin hamburger.
Then we went to the toilets and smoke a cigarette. And the friendly guy started to ask me what I realised were really politically motivated questions, so I shut up!
Anyhow, he said when I get back to Holland, go to the US embassy and apply for a visa, explain you had this tour arranged, and you’ll get one.
So I came back. It took me three days before I got into the embassy, and I gave this guy my details and passport and everything. Then he came back and he said we don’t want people like you in America, who write things like you do on their websites. It was that September the eleventh poem that freaked them out. (Read it ttp://webspace.webring.com/people/ej/judih/privaj/barry3.html)
On my passport was this notation which was just numbers and letters and I didn’t know what the hell it was until I went to a gig in Prague. And you know Czechoslovakia at that time wasn’t in Europe, so you really got your bags and passport checked when you went in. And the guy was really friendly, he said oh you’ve been having some problems in America. And I said how do you know? And he said this was a code saying you’re banned from America, and they’d put it in my fucking passport! Anyway I had no hassle with those guys, it was cool yeah.
But you know for a while coming in and out of England after that I got everything searched, they took my bags away, checked the CDs and everything!
I eventually did that New York gig over the telephone from Holland.
Hang on, I can’t find my lighter and I can’t find my joint.…. (lights joint). It comes to something when you have to have people come to your house and roll joints for you when you can’t roll them yourself! …
Axis Experimental Poetry Theatre
MICK: Tell me about Axis.
BARRY: Axis started with a group of poets and musicians from Rochdale, consisting of Me, a guy called Plod, Brett Bostock, Michael George and Joe McDonald was the guitarist. We also produced a magazine which lasted three issues. We started going round pubs and working men’s clubs hospital canteen schools and things like that. We were really bring the poetry out onto the street. And the thing is we really got people thinking about how poetry was different from how they had it at school. And how they could enjoy it. A lo of people started sending in contributions, and some of it was really good.
Trevor Hoyle sent in a chapter from his first book. He since wrote quite a few best sellers. And he did Blake’s Seven, wrote the scripts for that.
(70’s British TV Sci-Fi series http://www.blakes7-guide.com/)
We played quite a few good venues, Newcastle, Barnsley, all around the Manchester area. It was really good. It helped me develop what I was eventually to do, you know, to develop a style. Yeah, so I really sort of discovered what I was capable of.
MICK: So do you prefer writing poetry rather than prose?
BARRY: I prefer poetry. I used to work with a lesbian poet called Joke Kaviaar – it’s pun on something Dutch like stinking cunt or something.
So, anyway, we were supposed to be doing that tour in American that I told you about.
It’s incredible, we got an incredible following. We were doing these poetry dialogues on sexuality, and some of them were pretty, really heavy! And we would get the members of the audience, like the one we did about women’s body and how men think, we had the women in the audience to write a contribution to add to the thing, and the men as well, and it’s amazing what came out of that.
And I’ve written a couple of pieces meant for more than one voice. I’ve this thing called war. The first stanza I read alone, the second one is with at least two other people and then the final one is with any many readers as I can get involved with at the time.
I’ll email you a proof copy of my book I Left No Footsteps Behind Me. It sold well actually. In fact I only have proof copies and I was looking for a copy for myself and looked on the internet and the only one I found was in Japan for $75. It was £12.50 in the shops in England. It does my ego good when I see that!
MICK: Not half, you want to print some off and sell them!
BARRY: Well I’m looking around for a publisher. Amsterdam Nights sold around three hundred copies. Then I had a book of erotic poems with photographs Erotology. Amsterdam Nights was in English and Dutch, that was the one I got the prize for on Poetry Kit.
And DADA Fest, you know DADA Fest?
MICK: I do.
BARRY: The Deaf and Disabled Arts Association. I got nominated, can’t remember what category. I got second. They had three awards and I got second. It was in a big hotel in Liverpool on the riverfront. I went with my friend Anya. We went on the ferry (across the Mersey). And we went to a Doctor Who exhibition on the other side.
MICK: Got to be done hasn’t it! (laughs)
Mick: How much do you feel that your environment, class, financial status and background effects what you write?
BARRY: Well I suppose I bounce off what is around me. I write about places I see, and places I go to. Financial status, laughs, yeah it’s always been up and down. I’ve never been good at handwriting, I could never read my own fucking handwriting. (laughs)
MICK: I know what you mean, me too.
BARRY: I used to have all these notebooks. There was a time when I didn’t have a typewriter but it was always going around in my head. Obviously you can see ‘Footsteps’ is divided into different sections, erotic, political and so on and so forth. So when certain events get my attention I tend to write about it.
Background. Yeah that’s probably an important one. I was very lucky, I told you I got this thing published in Young Elizabethan?
MICK: You did.
BARRY: The headmaster, he befriended me and used to invite me and my brother to his house to play with his kids. In one way I think in one way he was being Mr nice guy and on the other hand maybe he wanted his kids to get to know what it was like on the other side. But he was great, I mean he would lend me books and we would talk about writers and poets and music. I mean he first played classical music for me and things like that. So yeah, that really made me decided what I was going to do with my life. I was going to travel and I was going to write.
I made this stupid vow with myself that if I hadn’t published anything by the time I was twenty one, then I would kill myself…
MICK: (Laughs out loud) Yeah but you’d already done that at nine!!
BARRY: Well luckily I didn’t kill myself. (laughs) But yeah I’m talking about a later time. I mean when I was twenty one, that was sixty seven. When I was travelling round the East, Afghanistan, Pakistan India and that. And I was earning money by writing ‘an English man in Pakistan’ articles type of thing. And I was lucky I could cook because I could get a job anywhere, even it’s just preparation or something you know. Hang on…
My eyes are tired today… I even have problems lighting… seeing where the light from the lighter is, on the end of a cigarette…
No but you know this financial status. That’s never bothered me. I mean there’s times when I’ve not even had a lump of bread in my pocket. But I’ve still written.
MICK: Well, a writer writes!
BARRY: I tell you what I do find… If I’m living with a woman, I don’t write much.
MICK: That’s interesting.
BARRY: When we break up, then you have time and you sit and you think about things.
MICK: Ah well some of the best songs have been written about break ups.
BARRY: Oh yeah.
MICK: What do think, being out in the East, in that environment, seeing what was going on out there, did that effect what you wrote being there?
BARRY: Well it did. I’ll send you ‘Footsteps’ and that. There’s a lot of work in it. It’s basically a retrospective of my work from er.. 67 till I think 1970. The only thing I should have done dated it, but I didn’t. It’s got some nice artwork in it by various artists.
MICK: How do you feel your writing has changed, evolved, altered over the years?
BARRY: I’ve become, or I became, I’m not writing anymore. I suppose you could say I became more minimalistic, in a way. And much more interested in the layout of the words. The layout of the words being important because as I told you before I write how I perform. You know? So there’s some stuff in there that is quite visual. But it really has changed…
I’ll tell you a little story. When I was seventeen or something, I was hanging out with Burroughs and people like that in London, and I met Ginsberg. I asked him to look at my poetry, you know what he said to me and I remembered it. He said stop writing about what you think people want you to write and write what you want to write.
BARRY: How you feel and see your world. And that started me in a different direction. Instead of, I was probably, I was writing some very flowery typical poetry. So I know some of my poetry, is pretty heavy and… some of them are not very nice in content. But it’s, I feel it’s very important that I had to write those things. Especially the one about abortion...
And the other poems in that section, they were done with Joke Kaviaar, as a dialogue around 2000. But after that Ginsberg incident, yeah I mean my poetry became more and more political. I was involved in quite a lot of political stuff in the sixties. (laughs) I actually tried, with a bunch of people, tried to stop the launch of a nuclear submarine in Birkenhead!
So that sort of thing. The Committee of One Hundred.
The whole anarchist thing. So my poetry became political. Some of it openly political.
Then again it’s changed again, stuff I wrote when I was travelling. I wrote about the experiences I had when I was travelling. They became sort of narrative poems. Not in a… how can I say it…. A bit like Homer the Odyssey and things like that…
That was my version of.. In fact one of them is called the Modern Odyssey.
But you know I travelled a lot in the sixties. Up until a few years ago I always used to go off three or four months somewhere every year... And, yeah shit, I had so much more I wanted to say on that subject. And I’ve forgotten. Maybe we could come back at a later point?
MICK: Of course.
BARRY: Because. I never really belonged anywhere. You know?
BARRY: I think the only place I really felt at home was the last twelve years or so, in Amsterdam. Is it twelve years? Yeah, well no, eleven years. But I mean yeah I really settled down in Amsterdam. That was good. I mean in Amsterdam you’re accepted for who you are. They don’t bother what you look like, where you’re from, what colour your skin is. Or whatever. You’re just accepted as a person. And that is nice. Ninety per cent of the population feel like that. There are a few exceptions but er..
My neighbourhood is completely multi cultural. I hear voices from so many languages passing my window every day. English American French Moroccan Turkish Polish Dutch of course. And everybody, there’s no hassle. Amsterdam is so nice man, you know.
My apartment has this garden, the thing is in Amsterdam everything is built around a block. You have a block with four sides and in the middle you have a communal garden or separate gardens. Everyone on the ground floor can have a separate garden and I’m lucky I’ve got a separate garden. But because the way the blocks are built, the wind just rips through it. Otherwise when it’s nice I sit in the garden. I’ve got garden speakers, and listen to music.
Everybody has window boxes or plants outside their houses, and they never get trashed.
MICK: Mmm. It’s a really pretty town too isn’t. I mean it’s nice to have an aesthetic backdrop when you’re walking around, you know what I mean. It helps doesn’t it.
BARRY: Yeah it’s a beautiful place. I mean there are a few other beautiful places in Holland apart from Amsterdam. But Rotterdam, is a nightmare.
MICK: I know. I went there for a bit. It’s more like Liverpool in a way.
BARRY: Yeah. I remember when I came over for that DADDA festival a couple of years ago, I couldn’t believe how Liverpool had changed. Especially down on the waterfront.
MICK: Completely different.
BARRY: You know, I mean wow! The Cavern at been moved to another place. The Green Door or the Back Door whatever it was called, doesn’t exists any more. And the only thing going, and that wasn’t the original, was the Royal Iris (Mersey Ferry). I mean, I remember seeing the Silver Beatles man! In the Cavern where Cilla Black was the coat girl !! She used to take your coat!
MICK: What is your favourite poem that you’ve written, and why?
BARRY: I really like Amsterdam Nights.
BARRY: Not just because it won the award, but performing that was a joy. You go through so many emotions in that one poem…
And then, what else? I think my favourite poem of all time is A Beach at Lindos… (quotes) …
A beach at Lindos
in noonday sun
You know, I mean that evokes so much in me. Because I spent all together in total about eighteen months in Lindos. Two times. But nice. Really nice. But a lot of things to remember in that.
And mostly travel poems. The Pakistan poems. I don’t know. There are a few which I er… I don’t know. I can’t find words anymore…
When I can get it together I am going to republish Footsteps.
MICK: That’ll be good.
BARRY: The artwork was really good. By different people who really knew my work and really illustrated it well. That Rochdale poem, it’s just a photograph a Dutch friend took when he came over of the estate I was living at. It shows the utter desolateness of it. So that fit really well with the poem.
The Power of Poetry
MICK: Do you think that poetry has the power to change the way people think, or can influence a change in behaviour, or political opinion?
BARRY: Well, I think it may have. But where is the proof?
That’s the thing you know? I told you before we used to go into schools and factories and working men’s clubs and that, and get people writing, who would never even thought about writing poetry. So in that way yeah!. I mean, some poetry has a tendency to be… like take for example one of my poems the September the Eleventh one, that got me banned from America!
And some of the erotic ones like Last Night. Or one about cornflakes…
The Breakfast poem, that got me banned, they turned the mics off at the folk festival. And they never booked me again, they said it was pornographic. Yet, half an hour before there’d been these the folkies with their fingers in their ears singing about taking women to the woods and shagging them blind and leaving them with kids. That’s fucking pornographic man! (laughs) you know!
MICK: (laughs) That is pornographic. It’s an attitude isn’t it!
BARRY: You know! I mean I’ve got this whole thing about the difference between erotica and pornography. And there is a big difference you know!
MICK: There is.
BARRY: I mean most people lump it together.
MICK: They do.
BARRY: I’ve got a lot of, oh god I’ve got a very good collection of erotic writing. Even some really early stuff. And you know, I consider the Marquis De Sade interesting, but not erotic. Right? That is pornography. You know? Coz it’s done out of being not very nice person.
MICK: Well it’s all about him isn’t it. Really. If you compare that with the Story of O.
BARRY: Oh wow yeah. Story of O. That was an incredible book. I’ve got a first edition. And D.H. Lawrence, right? I found a privately published edition from nineteen thirty of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It was published in Paris, a hundred copies, so he could get back to England. Now I re read it again, and that is the most, a really, very political book.
MICK: It is.
BARRY: It is. It’s a feminist book, when you look at it properly. You know. Especially being written at that time.
Mick: It’s a similar idea to August Strindberg’s Miss Julie isn’t it. You know a similar scenario, with the lady and the servant kind of thing.
BARRY: But, words. Poetry and prose. Can have a big effect, Especially the repercussions. As in the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover!
MICK: Absolutely. Well that broke open the whole thing!
BARRY: The best bit of that trial was the judge saying would you like your servants, or your wives even, reading this book. (laughter) You know. So it was a class thing! It’s alright for men. It’s alright for us upper class.
MICK: Coz we know what’s best for you!
BARRY: But that’s what the book was about.
MICK: In a way it was great because it came round and bit them in the arse didn’t it.
BARRY: Yeah. There was a lot of things happening in that time. I mean there was the Oz trial. The Last Exit to Brooklyn. The Ginger Man. And they really changed everything. They were responsible for changing the whole censorship laws.
Fan of ?
MICK: So have you got a favourite poet or song or artist?
BARRY: Well I think I’ve said, D. H. Lawrence. W. H. Davis.
Singer songwriter? I don’t know. One of them has got to be Dylan. Without doubt... And the Incredible String Band. Remember them?
MICK: (laughs) I do indeed. I’ve got all their records.
BARRY: I was very involved in the music scene in the sixties. I met most of the bands before they became famous. (lights another cig – coughs!!)
Healthy Lifestyle !
BARRY: I know what the doctor’s going to say to me.
MICK: Stop Smoking!
BARRY: (laughs) They been telling me that for twenty years!
MICK: I managed it two years ago I’m glad to say. It wasn’t hard.
BARRY: The only time I managed to stop smoking was when I was totally paralysed in bed with tubes hanging out of me. And I couldn’t leave the bed. And you’re not allowed to smoke in hospital. So it was a forced… I shouldn’t have started again, but I had one then two, then.
Now I’m back up to fifty a day!
MICK: I stopped for about a year then someone offered me a joint and I got a bigger buzz out of the nicotine! That’s when I started again. Ghastly.
BARRY: Do you know, listen to this man I could not believe it, when I was in Rochdale a few months ago for my daughter’s wedding reception, nobody could find me anything. Not even enough for a joint! And yet Rochdale used to be one of the biggest distribution centres in the whole of England. People from Liverpool and London to score there.
I mean all the people I knew, are either dead or turned into junkies!
The Times They are a Changed?
MICK: On that note, possibly, how much do you think that the 'sixties' - including free love, wide spread drug use, psycadelic rock n roll, political radicalism, the emergence of alternative culture etc - has influenced not just your writing, but also that of the generations who followed?
Barry: Well ok, let’s start with my involvement in the sixties.
I was, political. I once walked from Hull to Liverpool on a march to try and stop a nuclear submarine being launched. Yeah, and quite a few other things like that. But yeah, I was very active in the sixties politically. ..
The other side of that was I used to hang out with a lot of musicians who later became famous. So you know, I got on to the whole music scene. And when I moved down to London I got involved in the big hippy scene down there. The UFO club on Tottenham Court road, Electric Cinema and places like that. All sorts of names to conjure with. Legends man. Legends. I mean I read poetry with fucking Pink Floyd man. (laughter) You know before… when they were dropping bits of oil on water for the light show, the UFO club.
How did it effect me? Well obviously it effected my writing. But I think a lot of that came out later you know? Not right away, I was still…
Mick: Taking it all in?
Barry: Yeah, yeah. But free love. Yes well. That’s another thing man. (laughter) When I came back from India, in er ’67. Not many people had been out there so I was, the guy to fuck you know? (laughs) I was living in Oxford at the time. So that was a crazy time. But there wasn’t as much free love as they say. You know. It was all newspaper articles you now?
Mick: Bit of prurience. To sell papers.
Barry: You know if you got laid you got laid. But there was never any hang-ups like there is now, like are we going to have a relationship? You just would see what happens. You didn’t make demands on each other. That was the nice thing about it. But otherwise, I’ve not much to say about that. (Laughs)
Mick: And how much do you think that the whole ‘sixties’ thing has coloured or influenced the writing of the generations that followed? In the seventies, eighties, nineties.
Barry: I don’t know. I mean there was this period when there was this big poetry scene, you know with people like Brian Patten and Adrian Henry and those people. The Asses Jawbone, a political group, and I had Axis… But that only lasted a couple of years, and sort of poetry when dead in England at that time. But by that time I was travelling around, and doing poetry readings all over the fucking world man, but nobody was interested in England! (laughter)
Mick: Wasn’t till the Punk thing probably, it kicked off again.
Barry: Now it’s starting again. You got all these slam things going on. That I can’t cope with. Yeah, but Liverpool, what’s that theatre where they have poetry in the basement?
Mick: The Everyman.
Barry: The Everyman. I did a gig there. Most of the poets didn’t impress me. I mean like, because when people like the Liverpool scene was around that was really alive man. People were writing about what was happening in their world. What they were seeing. Now people are writing about what they expect, what they think people want…
Basically it’s a Black cultural thing this Rap stuff. I don’t know what you think of that but I can’t cope with it.
Mick: It’s hard work. (laughter)
Barry: You know, OK if you’re going to use swear words, you use it to make a point. You don’t just say fuck, or cunt, every ten minutes. That really gets me annoyed.
I watched that movie with M&M, Eight Mile. Now I was very impressed with that actually. But that was the only thing I liked. But all the other stuff I hear… It’s over here as well. Rap is big. Yeah. You get all these people trying to be a rapper, because that’s the thing to do. But that doesn’t work because they’re not doing what is really in their hearts. And that is what is important in poetry. What is inside you. If it comes out then it is valid and worthwhile. But if you’re just spouting a load of things, which is basically nonsense. You know.
Mick: Just rhymes isn’t it basically. Never been a huge fan of rhymes anyway myself. (laughter) Do you feel that 'the sixties' left a lasting legacy, and are you pleased about what it achieved, or disappointed over what it failed to do?
Barry: Well, I think a lot of people became very disillusioned. A lot of people thought we were gonna to change the fucking world. And at some point it looked like it. There was all these communes starting up and things like … I think the only commune still working is the Tipi Village in Wales.
Mick: Could well be.
Barry: What’s his name… Rawle. Sid Rawle.
Mick: Oh yeah right (laughs) is that him is it.
Barry: But I mean it was great. It was a great time. I used to run around England reading my poetry and cooking for people in exchange for somewhere to stay. A lot of people were doing that. Musicians were doing that. Donovan. Was another guy. He was doing things like that.
Mick: I noticed you called that section ‘Catching the Wind’. Interesting. Do you think people were more optimistic then?
Barry: Oh yeah. We thought we had something going man. You know, politically and socially. You couldn’t separate the two. You know what I mean.
Mick: I do.
Barry: But er, I don’t know. I look on it now. I talk with friends my age. There’s a lot of people my age. English and American, who come… It’s like Amsterdam is a place old hippies come to die (laughter) and we sit around and talk about the old times, people we knew. You should come over to Amsterdam man!
Mick: I might well do.
Barry: I’ll tell you a nice story. I like to go to a club called Mellow Mellow, and I was sat there with some friends there one night, and this American’s come in, and he looked at me and he says It’s you!. And I said what do you mean? He thought I was, what’s that guy from Grateful Dead?
Mick: Jerry Garcia.
Barry: Yeah Jerry Garcia. So I said no I’m not he’s dead. He said you’re Jerry Garcia can I have my photograph taken. (laughter) And then he sent me a photo from the National Enquirer, it published a picture of him with me and it said under it Jerry Garcia alive and well in Amsterdam (laughter).
Mick: Living with Elvis. (laughter)
Barry: And I once got mistaken for Ginsberg as well. But that’s another story.
Mick: So any other specific thing you want to talk about. I mean do you think your work will have a lasting legacy?
Barry: Well I hope so… As I said it’s memories man. Memories of people living on memories. But it will never be the same. It will never get back to how it was in the sixties. We’ve gone through, well I say we, you’ve gone through Thatcherism. And now you’ve got this bloody government now. Again, I can’t see any difference between Thatcher and this bloody government you’ve got there now.
But it’s scary man. What is happening today is really scary. I turn on the news and I’m fucking frightened. I mean they talk about all this money they don’t have. If they stopped the war, if they had a ceasefire in Afghanistan, in Iraq, for a week, they’d save enough money to pay all their bloody debts.
Mick: Absolutely. That’s where the money goes.
Barry: I remember in the sixties in America, you couldn’t do it in England, but in America people were not paying the part of their taxes that went into the war machine. It’d never have caught on in England.
Mick: Like you were saying about the Committee of 100, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of widespread solidarity, I mean there was a couple of big demos before the war in Iraq started, the biggest political demonstration this country has ever seen and they just basically ignored it. It didn’t make a blind bit of difference.
Barry: I think the only thing that has happened recently is the student demonstrations about the cost of university. And then they back-tracked on that and changed the money to six thousand from nine thousand. So that did have some effect, but not as much as it should do.
I mean the benefit system in England is fucked. They’re taking money left right and centre off people. Here, here I just got a letter today, because I’m incurably ill, they’re giving me five hundred Euros, and I get that every year, to spend any way I like, to make me feel good.
Mick: Isn’t that good.
Barry: Yeah. I’ve got a friend in England, she’s really ill, very disabled and you know what she’s getting, she’s getting £150 every two weeks! Before when I was on benefits here, I got 900 Euros a month, now I get 1400 a month. Because I’m sixty five. I mean what is an English old age pension?
Mick: I’ve no idea.
Barry: It’s about £130 a week.
Mick: Is it? Not much is it.
Barry: I tell people that here and they say how do people live.
Mick: They just make do and mend I suppose.
MICK: How would you like to be remembered?
BARRY: (laughs) How would I like to be remembered?
Right. Many years ago I was just travelling around, in England, and just going to just turn up at communes and people who like them places, and in return for a bed for a couple of nights I would do a poetry reading and cook a meal for them. You know I still do cook for people, it’s one of my great joys in my life. And I think that’s how I would like to be remembered, as this crazy poet just going round and feeding people and reading them poems.
MICK: Ah that’s nice. That’s really nice.
BARRY: Yeah, that would be nice. . .
I once went back to Rochdale, this was a good few years ago, and for some reason I found myself at a party, full of young people, when I say young people I mean twenty five and under you know. And I was sat talking to this guy and he said ‘who the fuck are you?’ and I said ‘I’m Barry Fitton.’ And he says ‘What!? I thought you was just a story. That everyone talked about!’
You know? (laughs) Really gobsmacked!
But I mean, I don’t know, I’d become this sort of figure… This kind of .. Johnny Appleseed figure of the poetry world, you know what I mean?
MICK: Yeah I do.
BARRY: You know people they’d heard about me, heard stories about me… And then they just sort I was a made up person.
MICK: That’s interesting. I like that. Like some sort of Will O the Wisp, based on fact but nobody really knows…
BARRY: Hang on, got to put the phone down…
(struggles with lighting cigarette - Coughs) Sorry. Two hands to light a cigarette! …
But yeah. That’s how I’d like to be remembered. Sort of mythical figure. It’s quite romantic in a way.
Some links for Barry and his work. (copy and paste if they don’t work)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willard_Manus (his book This Way to Paradise--Dancing on the Tables, Lycabettus Press – features two chapters about Barry in Lindos)