John Barnie is from Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. He was educated there at King Henry VIII’s Grammar School and at Birmingham University where he studied English Literature. From 1969-1982 he taught at Copenhagen University before returning to Wales to work for Planet, The Welsh Internationalist (assistant editor 1985-1990, editor 1990-2006).
He has published twenty collections of poetry to date, as well as fiction, memoirs, and a book on the blues in Welsh—Y Felan a Finnau (The Blues and Me). The essay collection The King of Ashes was awarded a Welsh Arts Council (as it was then) prize for literature in 1990, and the poetry collection Trouble in Heaven was long-listed for the award in 2008. (You can find out more about John’s publications and links to some of the books here)
Throughout 2016 he was one of three poets-in-residence (with Kelly Swain and Steven Matthews) at Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History. Poems produced during the year were published in the anthology Guests of Time. He also read at the Darwin Bicentenary Celebrations at Cambridge University in 2009, reflecting his long-standing interest in evolutionary biology, especially palaeoanthropology which forms an important substratum of his writing. In 2002 he was one of three judges of The Guyana Prize for Literature.
He has read in Austria, Hungary, Belgium, Ireland, Denmark and Lithuania, as well as Guyana, Canada, the USA and, occasionally, England, and has been translated into Italian, Danish and Estonian.
Among the influences on his poetry can be named R.S. Thomas and the Scandinavian poets Harry Martinson and Knud Sørensen.
His lifelong passion for the blues took him to Memphis, Tennessee in 1979, as visiting fellow at The Center for Southern Folklore where he edited Bothered All the Time, a documentary LP of blues from the Delta region of Mississippi recorded in the 1960s.
He has performed in several blues-and-poetry bands, including The Salubrious Rhythm Company (w. Nigel Jenkins and Jen Wilson), Y Bechgyn Drwg/The Bad Boys (w. Nigel Jenkins, Twm Morys, and Iwan Llwyd) and Llaeth Mwnci Madog (w. Nigel Jenkins and Iwan Llwyd). He currently plays guitar and sings with the blues trio Hollow Log (w. Richard Marggraf Turley and Dilwyn Roberts Young).
Their CD Dirty Deal appeared in 2018. For many years he reviewed for the blues magazines Blues Unlimited and Juke Blues.
John’s most recent collection of poetry is Dunes of Cwm Rheidol and his forthcoming collection is Ice, a novel in verse which will be out with Liquorice Fish Books, an imprint of Cinnamon Press, in April 2024.