The poet was born a Catholic, in 1913, in parochially Protestant suburban Essex. George Barkers mother, subject of some of the sons most effusively moved and moving work, was Irish, yet Barker was named for his father: "the person in the world whose features most closely resembled his own, but with whose straight-backed Englishness he was so reluctant to identify." Not surprisingly, as soon as he could the bright-eyed, sharp-tongued, already married Barker made good his escape from Loughton; he went south to Grub Street, thence to remotest Dorset. But of course Englands tight little isle was never enough to contain such a generously proportioned spirit. In short order the poet moved further afield still, to Civil War Spain, Depression-era Manhattan, the west of Ireland, literary Bohemia and Francis Bacons 1950s Soho. En route he had innumerable affairs, fathered all those kids, met and impressed Yeats, Eliot, Dylan Thomas--oh yes, and wrote a bit, too.
Barker might have had a great old life; he was not an indisputably great poet. Although his finest lyrics are very fine indeed, too much of the other stuff seems like filler, the exhaust of a poetic Porsche left idling. But in terms of biography that is largely irrelevant. In the way that second-rate books often make the best films, Robert Fraser has taken a second division poets untamed existence and turned it into a sharp, dry, clever, witty, comprehensive and absorbing portrait of an entire milieu. --Sean Thomas