Rety attended an English nursery school in Budapest. A child when World War II broke out, he was separated from his Jewish parents in 1944, carried messages for the Resistance, his grandmother was shot on the last day of the war. In 1947, after performing an anti-war play on the steps of the Budapest parliament, he left for a holiday with his aunt in Britain, and was forced to stay after the aunt burnt his passport.
After a job translating for a Czech publisher who spoke no English, he started a Soho underground paper, Intimate Review, with contributions from young writers including Doris Lessing, Bill Hopkins, Laura del Rivo, Frank Norman, Alan Owen, Cressida Lindsay and Bernard Kops. Feliks Topolski and Ralph Steadman produced artwork. In 1953 he published a comic epistolary novel, Supersozzled Nights. After the threat of libel action forced Intimate Review to close, he co-edited other short-lived publications, Cheshire Cat and Fortnightly: Rety was the first to publish Colin Wilson. After meeting his partner Susan Johns in 1958, they opened a second-hand furniture shop in Camden High Street, and Rety also trained as a painter at City and Guilds Art School.
Politically involved in the anti-nuclear Committee of 100, from 1964 to 1969 he edited the anarchist weekly Freedom, increasing its circulation and smoothing over sectarianism in British anarchism with his cheerfully inclusive editorial approach. (At the time, he later confessed, he'd never read any of the anarchist classics - and though he later found Kropotkin readable, he could never really understand Proudhon or Bakunin.) He was active against the Vietnam War, participating in the Grosvenor Square demonstration as well as a 13-day fast at Speaker's Corner. Initially convinced of the innocence of Stuart Christie, accused of carrying explosives to assassinate General Franco, Rety helped coordinate an international solidarity campaign, despite a personal feeling of betrayal on learning the truth.
In 1982 he co-founded the Torriano Meeting House in Kentish Town, hosting weekly poetry readings. Stephen Spender and Adrian Mitchell were among the hundreds of poets who performed at Torriano. A 2003 anthology included the work of Dannie Abse, John Arden, Oliver Bernard, John Heath-Stubbs and Dilys Wood. The anthology appeared with his Hearing Eye Press, founded in 1987, which ultimately published over 150 books. He also became poetry editor of the Morning Star: an anthology of work that appeared there, Well Versed, went into two editions.
As a chess player, reaching a FIDE rating of 2034, he played for Middlesex and London University as well as representing England in the European Senior Chess Championship. For most of his life he travelled on a stateless person's document, but finally obliged to obtain a British passport in his late seventies, after Hungary joined the EU.
- "Obituary: John Rety", The Daily Telegraph, 1 March 2010.
- Harry Eyres, "Tribute to a well-versed soul", 5 March 2010.
- Dan Carrier, "Tributes to John Rety, celebrated poet from Torriano Meeting House who has died from a heart attack", Camden New Journal, 11 February 2010.
- Milan Rai, John Rety: "The point is this", 26 February 2010.
- Interview with Ian Bone.
- John Pilgrim, "John Rety obituary", The Guardian, 18 March 2010.
- Richard Bagley, "Obituary: John Rety 1930 to 2010", Morning Star, 26 March 2010.
- Four-part interview with Ian Bone
- on YouTube
- Hearing Eye Press
- Works by or about John Rety in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
KOCIEJOWSKI, Marius. God's Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners (Carcanet, 2014) contains a biographical chapter "The Poet, the Anarchist, the Master of Ceremonies - Whose tale contains a desk inlaid with Midnight Blue"
RETY, John. "Notebook in hand, New and Selected Poems" (Stonewood Press, 2012), contains a biographical chapter by John Rety's daughter, Emily Johns.