Sunday, 9 September 2012

John Rety, notebook in hand

As mentioned a couple of posts ago, some notes on John Rety's A Notebook in Hand, new and selected poems (Stonewood Press)... At Free Verse, Five Leaves shared a reading with Smokestack and Hearing Eye, the publishing house of the late John Rety. Stephen Watts, an old friend of Five Leaves, read from one of his two bilingual Hearing Eye publications telling part of the story of his nonno, his Italian grandfather, on his journey to London before channelling John Rety, his friend and former publisher. Rety's book is one of two from the new Stonewood Press. Founder Martin Parker contributes a short preface to the book, which, with a Foreword by Stephen and an afterword by John's daughter Emily Johns, is perhaps the nearest we'll get to a biography of the admirable (if not always easy) John Reti/Reti Janos. I confess I bought the collection primarily for the prose, the stories about this immigrant Hungarian/Jewish bohemian, national team chess player, publisher, organiser and anarchist who finally, and to his regret, ceased to be a "stateless person" only in 2007. It would be wonderful to think that someone would write a fuller biography of a very full life, began in Hungary, continued in Britain since 1947 and which ended in February 2010.
One particularly sad part of his life was at the end of the Hungarian part of the WWII, his grandmother went up to a Hungarian fascist to tell him the war was over. He shot her dead.
John Rety was certainly productive. Having arrived here aged seventeen, he wrote a novel in English just a few years later. A committed libertarian, he was for many years the poetry editor of the communist Morning Star, but his greatest contribution was Hearing Eye, and the linked Torriano Meeting House, hosting Sunday night poetry readings since 1982.
At the reading, among other poems, Stephen read a yearning-for-utopia poem, aptly called "Freedom", dedicated to another dead anarchist, Philip Samson. Philip, John, and others such as two Five Leaves writers, Colin Ward and Nicolas Walter were part of a generation of talented writers, propagandists and fun-loving free spirits around the journal Freedom. All greatly missed.

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