About Matthew Sweeney Children's Poems

Born in Donegal in Ireland, Matthew Sweeney was one of the most original poets writing for children. The author of eleven books of poetry for adults, he wrote five collections of poetry for children, including The Flying Spring Onion (Faber, 1992) and Fatso in the Red Suit (Faber, 1995). He was 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 included the Penelope Farmer Prize, a Cholmondely Award (1987) and an Arts Council of England Writers Award (1999). He also published two novels for children and a guide to poetry: Writing Poetry and Getting Published (with John Hartley Williams: Hodder, 1997). 

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 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 with Anne Rosenfeld as producer.


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

Prize website

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

Prize website

1987 Cholmondeley Award 1987 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

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


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1The Flying Spring Onion

2Cows on the Beach

3Cecil the Spider

4Fishbones Dreaming

5Lucy's Gosling

6James' Mum

7Johnjoe's Snowman

8Blue Hair

9The Red House


11My Dear Mungo

12Night Boy

13All the Dogs

14Me and Benjy

15After Dinner

16Up on the Roof

17Dog in Space

18The Money Tree

19Worrying Days

20Flat Bird

21Ghost Story


23A Boy


25Off School

26The New Boy

27Only the Wall

28In the Desert

28The Silent Knight

30The Not-So-Slow Loris

31The Nobody on the Hill

32A New Me


34The Field

35The Bad Girl Haiku

36While I Practise my Piano

37My Party



40The Moon

41The Burglar

42The Butcher


44The Sleeping Sailor


46I Went to the Future

47Maggot Song