Born in Lifford, Co. Donegal in 1952, Sweeney lived principally in London from the mid seventies until the late nineties. Since then he has lived primarily in Berlin and Timosoara. More recently to avail of a stipend for artists, he has taken up domicile in Ireland. Sweeney has 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 has co-edited two anthologies of poems. He has held several fellowships and writer-in-residence positions, most recently at the Munster Literature Centre. He 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 his latest book Black Moon (2007). Sweeney also frequently works with film-makers as can be seen from the video clip ‘The Return’.
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.
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
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
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
Links in English
http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth102 British Council listing
http://www.writersartists.net/msweeney.htm News on reading tours etc.
http://www.thepoem.co.uk/limelight/sweeney.htm Three more poems
http://www.lyrikline.org/index.php?id=57&L=1&author=ms05&cHash=0841b20b2d Lyrkline site with more poems, translations, sound recordings.
Link in German
http://www.berlinverlage.de/autor/autorDetails.asp?navid=S&autorID=20 Author page with Berlin Verlag