Matthew Sweeney

Image by Munster Literature Centre

Matthew Sweeney

b. 1952 d. 2018

The act of writing is a process of curiosity and discovery, with the unconscious mind leading, and everything focussing on finding the right concrete details. Matthew Sweeney

About Matthew Sweeney

"Matthew Sweeney is a force for good in British poetry," wrote Ruth Padel. "The work is one large metaphor: a parable for the human condition...He is one of our finest poets of the unconscious; of darkness brought to light...." A strong sense of noirish filmic narrative is present in most of Sweeney’s poetry, which moves beyond realism into what he called 'Alternative Realism'. He was quick to assert that his writing is not surreal, nor is it a form of magical realism – he was concerned with metaphorical connections and the leaps the imagination makes while seeking to disclose the truths of the everyday. There is often violence, or a looming danger against Sweeney's protagonists, and there is always a sense of mystery, which is given over to the reader for contemplation.

Matthew Sweeney was born in Donegal in 1952. He saw in the Irish Tradition - rich as it is with the parallel existence of the Otherworld and the physical world - an openness to Alternative Realism not present in the English Tradition. Sweeney had a Degree in German and English and said in interview that his motivation for studying German was his love of Kafka. At the Polytechnic of North London and the University of Freiburg, he was introduced to other poets from the German Literary Tradition, who had a profound effect on his writing. There, he made a connection between the Irish and German Traditions, saying later in interview: "I saw round the back the same thing with a little bit of darkness added and that appealed to me - European darkness. So I made this big connection and it was wonderful."

Sweeney's first collection was published in 1981, but it wasn't until he won the Prudence Farmer Prize (for the best poem of the year in The New Statesman) for 'Ends' in 1985, that he began to be recognised as a modern day fabulist. The part spiky, part deadpan tone of this early poem - which you can hear on this Archive recording - is characteristic of his oeuvre.

Such a consummate storyteller is he, it is perhaps easy for the music of Sweeney's language to be over-looked initially, but the cadences are part of the telling as becomes very evident in this Archive recording. As Peter Porter once wrote: "Wearing his faux-naif narrator's smile he tells you relaxed stories in gently persuasive verse. Suddenly you are plunged into fear and strangeness, yet Sweeney seems not to have changed his pace or raise his voice. The result is poetry of originality, where language ticks over beautifully but unselfconsciously."

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)...

Blue Shoes Secker & Warburg 1989

Cacti Secker & Warburg, 1992

One for Jimmy: An Anthology from the Hereford and...

The Flying Spring Onion Faber and Faber, 1992

The Snow Vulture Faber and Faber, 1992


New Statesman Prudence Farmer Award, 1984 New Statesman Prudence Farmer Award, 1984

1987 Cholmondeley Award 1987 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

1999 Arts Council Writers' Award 1999 Arts Council Writers' Award

Prize website

2007 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) <i>Black Moon</i>

Prize website


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3Last Supper

4A Round House

5Imagined Arrival

6The Servant

7The Ideal Home

8A Crow's Cremation


10Divers at the Laurentic

11A Couple Waiting

12The Shadow Home

13Pink Milk

14Her Song



17The Desert


19Donkey Hoof

20The House


22The Hat

23The Compromise

24An End

25The Butcher


27A Smell of Fish


29The Summons


31The UFO

32In the Dust


34The Sweatmark

35The Snowy Owl

36The Hunger Artist at Home

37The Snake


39Black Moon

40In the Garden

41The Glass Chess Set

42The Blue Hammock

43Fish and Chips