Monday, 8 December 2014

Remembering John Rety (8/12/30 - 3/2/10) - Anarchist, Poet and Artist

Today I remember  writer, editor, artist, publisher, chessplayer, anarchist and pacifist John Rety.
Born Reti Janos to a Jewish family in Budapest in 1940, his political views were shaped by his childhood experiences. His grandmother escaped a pogram in Serbia by swiing across a river with her children strapped to her back, while following the outbreak of war, John's family knew life as Jewish people was going to be extremely difficult.As a child partisan  in the second-world war he saw his grandmother shot in front of him
An anarchist  from a young  age he was sub-editor of one of its  leading journals Freedom between 1963 -1968. A rich and colourful  life, after arriving in London in the 1950's  he became a painter, and started to produce  still-lifes and landscapes, something which he subsequently  gave up in 1977, after sadly  his studio was broken  into and all his painting  stolen. Luckily for the world he would take up  poetry.
John met his partner Susan Johns in 1958. Together they moved into Robert Street, Regent's Park and scraped a living by  putting on a ja night at a Soho baseent bar, then ran a second hand furniture store in Camden High Street.
On all accounts  he was a gentle human being, of huge intellect, with depth and power with unwavering political passion, with  undoubtable charm and humour, dedicating his life to the causes of  peace,  he was active against the Vietnam War, a member of the radical anti nuclear group the Committe of 100, a supporter of squatters rights, libertarian education,  and the myriad forms of freedom and social justice.When the land rights group The Land is Ours  occupied a derelict plot owned by Guiness in 198. and turned it into an experiment in sustainable and cooperative living, John described the South London site as "anarchy in action",saying that as a partiipant, he had " now seen anarchy in practice and, so far, it works." (Freedom, 18 May, 1996)
 He was respected by all who came across him. He was also an accomplished chess player and  passionate listener of music.He was to become well known in the  literary world for his contributions to poetry, founding in 1982, the Torriano Meeting House  in Kentish Town, North London which became known for its performances, exhibitions and political activities, which is also where   he founded  the Hearing Eye Press  a wonderful publishing house that he ran with  his partner Susan  1987 which continues to  this day.
He had a non-sectarian approach to life, avoiding walls and was to become poetry editor of the Morning Star, where  he published a different  poet every week, releasing the superb poetry collection Well Versed in 2008 with a foreward  by the late Tony Benn.
His own poetry has been a source of tremendous  comfort and joy since I first encountered them, spontaneous free verse of much inspiration, richly evocative, and imaginative.
He died of a heart attack on the third of February 2010,aged 79, his legacy a rich and strong one, still touching and resonating with peoples lives.

" There  is no other movement  in the country or anywhere  in the world, which operates as does the anarchist, openly,  spontaneously and altruistically. We do not resign to superstition, bigotry, chauvinism of any kind. We are not afraid of power,  neither master nor slave."

- John Rety, 28.1/95

I conclude with 3 poems from his pen that I particularly enjoy.

Art and the Man

The  man in the garden was numbering
the leaves
the tree was  just  a tree
The man was just a man
The numbering took ages
That was in the Summer
Every  leaf was numbered
in the Autumn the man
Gathered the fallen  leaves.

The man was in the garden pinning  back
the leaves
the tree was no longer just a tree
The man was no longer just a man
He was an Artist and his work of art was
the tree.


Oh yes,  we can ignore  the shouting
whether behind closed doors
or out  in the open fields.
We can choose our friends
And ignore the problems of
the dirty, the unwashed, the ignorant
And avoid if we can the aggressive
Close our eyes to the beggars of the town,
Oh yes,  we can ignore the shouting
We can ignore our own pleading,
our own anxieties.
We are not as bad, not as ugly
Not so stupid as that raving
That undescribably filthy
Oh yes we can hear what is decent
We can hear the nice noises, the acceptable ones
We can hear the adding machine, the police siren,
The everso friendly voices on the screen
On the pulpit, on the rostrum and on the telephone
the quick cheery tune that escorts us across the
They are sanctioned these voices
Therefore they are good.
Oh yes, we can ignore the shouting
Our lease  is duly signed
And our job is secure
Here is your key, now get on with it,
Noon day and night
Secure it tight
Leave on the light
Let them think your hovel is occupied
While you are on a flight
to some exotic sight
Oh yes, we can ignore the shouting
And we can hardly remember
The shouting, the misery, the  desperation
All that is of the past
The utter, utter degradation,
Now is our turn, my turn,  my key's turn.


                  for Philip on his seventieth birthday

Where is that land
Show me that land
Don't say it  never existed
Petofi, Makhno and Durutti-
did they all die in vain?
Are we just  dreamers ansd
Abstract thinkers
Don't we know more than that?
What I don't know, you might know
Somebody, somewhere  on the wide ocean
Up a high mountain
Where beauty conquers terror
Might still know where
Behind the  screen of clouds
-Don't tell me it's only in my mind-
Is that land, the land of the free,
Don't say it never existed.

Further Reading:-

Songs of Anarchy and other Poems; Box 2 1989

Notebook in Hand: New and Selcted Poems 2012

Through the Anarchist  Press; a Column in Freedom; 1996
Beautifully illustrated by his daughter Emily Johns


  1. Just this morning I picked up 'Through the Anarchist Press - a column in Freedom' by our good friend John Rety (with drawings by Emily Johns) and read an extract to my friend Jose, in my kitchen. Then I came across this blog page dedicated to John a couple of hours after - you have included exactly the same extract. I conclude that John is still with us and continuing to speak to us all - bringing messages of encouragement and positive regard to keep us all going on our paths towards peace. Long Live our Good Friend John Reti and thank you for keeping him alive for us all Dave - it is very much appreciated and I am very moved.

  2. his presence is stiill with us then. Aslong as we remember people are alive. Regards.

  3. Remembering John is the most beautiful, painful, yet funny experience one can have. His view was a lesson to us all in freedom, responsibility, quality and joy. His quiet observations and loud protests embraced us, His sardonic humour demonstrated a wisdom and political insight worthy of a war hero, which he was. Above all he made us feel valued, the ragged people of the earth, and made whole.

  4. Thank you kindly for your comment, much appreciated. Long may we keep his and people like him thoughts alive. People that truly enrich lives, and stand up for what they belief is right, with passion and commitment. Regards.

  5. and thanks for following my blog too... solidarity... greetings from West Wales.

  6. two films made with John in 2008 -


    a good and fine longest day to you Mr Rety

  7. Thank you kindly for the above. Much appreciated, warm regards.