Poetry International Poetry International

Matthew Sweeney

Matthew Sweeney

Matthew Sweeney

(Ireland, 1952 - 2018)

Poetry International Web is sad to learn that Matthew Sweeney, who appeared at three Rotterdam Poetry Festivals, has died. Born in Lifford, Co. Donegal in 1952, Sweeney lived principally in London from the mid seventies until the late nineties and then primarily in Berlin and Timosoara. More recently to avail of a stipend for artists, he took up domicile in Ireland. Sweeney published not only many poetry collections for adults but also several poetry collections for children and two children’s novels. Writing Poetry, which he co-wrote with John Hartley Williams, appeared in 1997, and he co-edited two anthologies of poems. He held several fellowships and writer-in-residence positions, including at the Munster Literature Centre. Sweeney won the Prudence Farmer Prize in 1984, the Cholmondely Award in 1999, a Henfield Writing Fellowship in 1986, and several bursaries from the Arts Councils of Ireland and England. He was nominated for the T.S. Eliot award for Black Moon (2007). Sweeney also frequently worked with film-makers as can be seen from the video clip ‘The Return’. His latest book, My Life as a Painter, appeared in April 2018.

Mary Noonan's poem 'INVADER' dedicated to the poet

Sweeney’s work is most distinctive for its plain-style narratives; many of his poems read like short short stories in verse. His poems are also marked by their fabulist, magical realist character. Franz Kafka and Charles Simic are often cited as influences, but so too has much twentieth-century German poetry (Trakl for instance), and his peripatetic existence around twenty-first century Mitteleuropa (particularly Romania) has had a major impact on his last two books.

Sweeney’s tendency to write outside the main Irish poetic tradition and the Northern Irish “well-made poem” style (whose reactionary hegemony has practically disintegrated in the last decade in any case) has often led to his absence from canonical anthologies at home, but all his other qualities have made him a popular choice for translation, with full-length books of his work available in Dutch, Czech, German, Mexican Spanish and Romanian; as a consequence Sweeney is possibly one of the top five most famous Irish poets on the international scene.

© Patick Cotter


A Dream of Maps, Raven Arts Press, Dublin, 1981
A Round House, Raven Arts Press, Dublin, 1983
The Lame Waltzer, Raven Arts Press, Dublin, 1985
The Chinese Dressing-Gown,
Raven Arts Press, Dublin, 1987
Blue Shoes,
Secker & Warburg, 1989
Cacti, Secker & Warburg, 1992
The Flying Spring Onion, Faber and Faber, London, 1992
The Snow Vulture, Faber and Faber, London, 1992
The Blue Taps, Prospero Poets, London, 1994
Fatso in the Red Suit, Faber and Faber, London, 1995
Penguin Modern Poets 12: Helen Dunmore, Jo Shapcott, Matthew Sweeney, Penguin, 1997
The Bridal Suite, Cape, London, 1997
A Smell of Fish, Cape, London, 2000
Selected Poems, Cape, London, 2002
Fox, Bloomsbury, London, 2002
Sanctuary, Cape, London, 2004
Stories, Cape, London, 2006
Black Moon, Cape, London, 2007
Pendulum: The Poetry of Dreams (contributor), Avalanche Books, 2008
The Night Post: A Selection Salt, 2010
Horse Music Bloodaxe, Northumberland 2013
Inquisition Lane Bloodaxe, Northumberland 2015
My Life as a Painter  Bloodaxe, Northumberland 2018

As editor

Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (editor with Jo Shapcott), Faber and Faber, London, 1996
Beyond Bedlam: Poems Written Out of Mental Distress (editor with Ken Smith), Anvil Press Poetry, 1997
One for Jimmy: An Anthology from the Hereford and Worcester Poetry Project (editor) Hereford and Worcester County Council, 1992
Selected Poems of Walter de la Mare (Poet to Poet series) (editor), Faber and Faber, London, 2006

For children

Up on the Roof: New and Selected Poems, Faber and Faber, London 2001
Irish Poems, (editor) Macmillan Children’s Books, 2005
The New Faber Book of Children’s Verse (editor), Faber and Faber, London, 2001


Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (with Jo Shapcott) Faber and Faber, London 1996
Beyond Bedlam: Poems Written Out of Mental Distress (with Ken Smith) Anvil Press Poetry, London 1997
The New Faber Book of Children’s Verse (editor) Faber and Faber, London 2001 


Writing Poetry (Teach Yourself Series) (with John Hartley Williams) Hodder & Stoughton, London 1996

Obituary, Irish Times
Lyrikline site with more poems, translations, sound recordings 

Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Prins Bernhard cultuurfonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Gefinancierd door de Europese Unie
Elise Mathilde Fonds
Stichting Verzameling van Wijngaarden-Boot
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère