Matthew Sweeney

Portrait Matthew Sweeney
© Hartwig Klappert

Matthew Sweeney was born in County Donegal, Ireland in 1952. He moved to London in 1973 to study at the North London Polytechnic, where he focused intensively on German Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature. From 1977 to 1978 he studied in Freiburg.

His first volume of poems, »A Dream of Maps«, appeared in 1981. Since then Sweeney has published several books of poetry. From the very start, his work has occupied a special place within English language poetry. In his poems Sweeney, using elementary language, tells seemingly everyday stories, which begin abruptly and take surprising turns towards the end. The stylistic restraint and dramaturgical directness with which he pulls his reader into the inner world of his poems are characteristic features of his poetry. He utlimately found his distinctive voice in his third collection of poetry, »The Lame Waltzer« (1985), the laconic style that proved to be largely free from decorative elements and all things metaphorical. Rather than figurative questions, what really interests him is what he calls »European darkness«, exemplified by the Serbian-American poet Charles Simic. From this point on, Sweeney concentrated on an »alternative realism«, which together with his anti-lyrical voice has become a trademark of his poetry.

Alongside his poetry work, he is the editor of several anthologies and has also written many widely-read children’s books, the most recent entitled »Fox« (2002), a thrilling and at the same time thoughtful story about growing up and the gift of friendship. Sweeney writes about eleven-year-old Gerard who offers friendship to a homeless man, Halt, and lets him experience the attention and encouragement he lacks. The novel gently deals with the topics that occupy children of the age of the protagonist: friendship, but also problems at school, being bullied by classmates and misunderstood feelings about one’s self. The author shows his young readers how important it is to be respectful, to deal with anxieties, to show initiative and to earn trust. The novel was nominated for the CBI/Bisto award 2002/2003, one of the most important prizes in Ireland. With »Up on the Roof« (2001) Sweeney produced an original poetry collection for children, whose different poems tell of the various experiences in the lives of children. »The New Faber Book of Children’s Verse« (2001) is a stimulating anthology full of unexpected twists and turns.

Sweeney’s work has received many prizes, among them the Cholmondeley Award (1987) and the Arts Council of England Writers’ Award (1999). The poetry volume »Black Moon« (2007) was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. His work has been published in Slovakia, Latvia, Mexico, Romania and the Netherlands. His first collection of poems published in German, »Rosa Milch«, appeared in 2008. He lives in Cork and Donegal.

The author died on August 5, 2018. 

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