John Rety: Poet and anarchist who ran the Hearing Eye publishing house

Though a writer of fiction and subsequently verse, John Rety was chiefly known for running the poetry publishing house, Hearing Eye, in conjunction with Torriano Meeting House in London's Kentish Town, where he hosted poetry readings. He was a character in every aspect of his being: nothing about him could have been other than it was, otherwise he would not have been John Rety: his physiognomy seemed the perfect expression of his personality, as did his accent, barely Hungarian, which he unselfconsciously called "educated". Shyly outgoing, he attracted all he met, even those who found him exasperating to work with. Only combs shunned him.

He was born in Budapest as Réti János, or, in his view, on reaching Britain in 1947 at the age of 17. In those days the granting of visas was rare, and the success of his application may be explained by his connection with British playwrights. Having found Budapest imprisoning, he became not just a new citizen but also a new person, freed by a new name. And yet while others pronounce 'Rety' with a short "e" – wits coined the word "retycence" – he himself always retained the long "a" sound of 'Réti'.

His grandfather and his father were theatrical agents, and while it would be far-fetched to say he was one too, Torriano Meeting House has a stage on which he invited poets to speak, and, indeed, perform, even harangue. The arts. Politics. The community. These were the fields that demanded engagement, and he offered a forum.

On his arrival in London he had worked for, and learnt from, a Mr Prager, who had a small publishing house. He had also studied art at the City and Guilds, which awarded him its Fine Art Diploma, but in 1977, his studio having been burgled, he turned to poetry.

Poetry he saw as the voice of freedom, and Freedom was the name of a magazine he edited. Then came the miners' strike. Mrs Thatcher's victory drew his mind back to Hungary's far-right Arrow Cross rather than to the Red Army that crushed it. About the failed revolution of 1956, during which his father died of a heart attack, he could be quite scathing. Maybe he associated it with the young Nazi Hungarian who, on 15 January, 1945, shot his grandmother when she told him that prudence now demanded the removal of his armband.

A communist, however, Rety was not. Already by the last stage of the European war, when he saw power take grotesque forms, he was an anarchist. In 2006, however, Morning Star dared invite him to become its poetry editor. The risk paid off: Thursdays, the day of the week when poems appear, saw a two per cent rise in circulation. Last year Hearing Eye published a selection entitled Well Versed. Tony Benn says in the introduction, "It is important to understand the close link between art and socialism." If this induces readers to expect an anthology of socialist poetry they will feel deceived: so wide-ranging is it that no single ideology emerges, unless freedom be classed as one.

The year 1982 saw the first poetry reading at Torriano Meeting House. Five years later the blind John Heath-Stubbs came to recite his poems about death, whereupon Rety told him, "They ought to be published, not necessarily by me." Through the post came the manuscript, Cats' Parnassus. Rety engaged his daughter, Emily Johns, to illustrate it. Hearing Eye was off to a good start, helped by Peter Levi's favourable review in The Times. Books by other poets followed before John Heath-Stubbs brought further success with his translations of the Roman poetess, Sulpicia. Hearing Eye's list now runs into three figures.

While most rival houses accepted no poems that exceeded 40 lines, Rety accepted two Byronic epics by Adrian Brown. Occasionally he published himself: he was best at the short and pithy. He also deviated into prose, but very seldom: most recently, on the publication of my La Sardegna senza Lawrence by Aipsa Edizioni he asked me to translate it into English under the title Sardinia without Lawrence. He deemed it honorary poetry. How adept he was at making mediocrities feel special!

At Torriano he was a benign presence. Sometimes, before the poets began – from the floor in the first half of the evening, and, following the interval, specially invited ones – he would treat us to his feelings on this and that. Diffident-downright, he would tentatively lay down the law, signing himself off with a shrug: 'I don't know.' Occasionally chairs would begin to creak, muttering, 'It's for poetry we're here, so let's get on with it.'

In 1996 Rety jointly published the late A.C. Jacobs' Collected Poems and Selected Translations with Menard Press, whose director, Anthony Rudolf, found him of an anarchic disposition and no slave of the clock, easily distracted from the task in hand – which was to establish the best possible text. They remained firm friends.

During his final decade Rety profited from the practical help of a businessman-poet, David Floyd, who found the collaboration exciting, exasperating, rewarding. "John came up with great ideas and quite bizarre ones. And he had this capacity to conduct three different conversations with you at the same time, often while talking to someone else."

In 2009 an evening at the Barbican was arranged in Rety's honour, but by then his energy and enthusiasm seemed in decline, as if he felt his work were done. By now the grant from Camden Borough Council to pay the rent on Torriano Meeting House had ceased, and he had little stomach for the fight. Closure threatened, but poets rallied round raising money.

John Rety, publisher: born Budapest 8 December 1930; partner to Susan Johns (one daughter); died London 3 February 2010.

Suggested Topics
News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Head of Business Studies

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Business Studies needed for a ...

Teaching Assistant in secondary school Manchester

£11280 - £14400 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Teaching a...

Primary teaching roles in Ipswich

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education re...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits