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Matthew Sweeney - Children's Poems

(b. 1952)

"The act of writing is a process of curiosity and discovery" Matthew Sweeney

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • 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-GownRaven Arts Press (Dublin) 1987
  • Blue Shoes Secker & Warburg 1989
  • The Snow Vulture Faber and Faber, 1992
  • The Flying Spring Onion Faber and Faber, 1992
  • One for Jimmy: An Anthology from the Hereford and Worcester Poetry Project (editor) Hereford and Worcester County Council, 1992
  • Cacti Secker & Warburg, 1992
  • The Blue Taps Prospero Poets, 1994
  • Fatso in the Red Suit Faber and Faber, 1995
  • Writing Poetry (Teach Yourself Series) (with John Hartley Williams), Hodder & Stoughton 1996
  • Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (editor with Jo Shapcott, Faber and Faber, 1996
  • The Bridal Suite Cape, 1997
  • Penguin Modern Poets 12: Helen Dunmore, Jo Shapcott, Matthew Sweeney Penguin,1997
  • Beyond Bedlam: Poems Written Out of Mental Distress (editor with Ken Smith), Anvil Press Poetry 1997
  • A Smell of Fish Cape, 2000
  • Up on the Roof: New and Selected Poems Faber and Faber, 2001
  • Fox Bloomsbury, 2002
  • Selected Poems Cape, 2002
  • SanctuaryCape, 2004
  • Stories Cape, 2006
  • Black Moon Cape, 2007
  • The Night Post Salt, 2010
  • Matthew Sweeney Reading from his Poems (children's), The Poetry Archive 2012
Born in Donegal in Ireland (1952), Matthew Sweeney is one of the most original poets now writing for children. The author of eleven books of poetry for adults, he has written five collections of poetry for children, including The Flying Spring Onion (Faber, 1992) and Fatso in the Red Suit (Faber, 1995). He is editor of The New Faber Book Of Children's Verse (Faber, 2001) and The New Faber Book of Children’s Poems (Faber Children’s Books, 2003). His prizes include the Penelope Farmer Prize, a Cholmondely Award (1987) and an Arts Council of England Writers Award (1999). He has also published two novels for children and a guide to poetry: Writing Poetry and Getting Published (with John Hartley Williams: Hodder, 1997). He is much in demand as a visiting writer in schools.

Writing directly from the child’s perspective Matthew Sweeney draws on and extends the tradition of Robert Louis Stevenson (‘A Boy’, ‘Night Boy’). The poems are often about children in solitary settings, or place creatures in environments where they do not belong (‘Dog in Space’, ‘Cows on the Beach’). The situations described are characterised by a kind of mild anarchy (‘Blue Hair’, ‘James’s Mum’), yet are not shielded from unsettling emotions and experiences (‘Only the Wall’, ‘While I Practise My Piano’). At the same time, his poems are influenced by European writers such as Kafka, often depicting quite ordinary situations from new and unusual angles (‘The Flying Spring Onion’, ‘Fishbones Dreaming’). ‘Up on the Roof’ depicts a ‘small, blond boy’ rescuing a ‘black and white kitten’ from the roof of a church, ‘walking over the slates/as if on a pavement’ and nervously observed by the priest and verger from below.

The speaker of ‘While I Practise My Piano’ is ‘haunted by child spirits’, which is a good summary of reading Matthew Sweeney’s poems. We are left in an altogether different territory, both emotional and physical, from the place we started out from. This recording of Matthew Sweeney encapsulates his unique vision of the world, which explores the space between dream and reality, triumph and disaster, and which enter the imagination as a ‘final strangeness of elegance’ (Ted Hughes).

Matthew recorded these poems on June 21st 2010 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.


2007 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist)

1999 Arts Council Writers' Award

1987 Cholmondeley Award

New Statesman Prudence Farmer Award, 1984

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