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Matthew (Gerard) Sweeney (1952-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1952, in Donegal, Ireland; Education: Attended Gormanston College, 1965-70, University College, Dublin, 1970-72, and University of Freiburg, 1977-78; Polytechnic of North London, B.A. (German and English; with honors), 1978.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Jonathan Cape, Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England.


Freelance writer, beginning mid-1980s. Farnham College, Surrey, England, writer-in-residence, 1984-85; West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham, England, external advisor in creative writing, 1986-89; Poetry Society, London, England, publicist and events assistant, 1988-90; Hereford and Worcester, poet-in-residence; South Bank Centre, London, writer-in-residence, 1994-95; University of Reading, writer-in-residence, 1998; National Library for the Blind, poet-in-residence, 2000; Ledbury Festival, poet-in-residence, 2000. Judge of poetry contests; presenter at conferences; tutor.


Poetry Society, Aosdana.

Honors Awards

National Poetry Competition winner, 1980; Hammersmith Festival Poetry Competition winner, 1980; Prudence Farmer Prize, New Statesman, 1984; University of East Anglia Henfield writing fellow, 1986; Cholmondeley Award, 1987; Arts Council of England Writers' Award, 1993, 1999; Arts Council of Ireland Writers' bursary, 2001.



The Chinese Dressing-Gown, Raven Arts Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1987.

The Snow Vulture, Faber (London, England), 1992.

The Flying Spring Onion (poems), Faber (London, England), 1992.

Fatso in the Red Suit (poems), illustrated by David Austen, Faber (London, England), 1995.

Up on the Roof: New and Selected Poems, Faber (London, England), 2001.

Fox, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2002.

Contributor to books, including the poetry anthology We Couldn't Provide Fish Thumbs, illustrated by Colin McNaughton, Pan Macmillan (London, England), 1998.


Without Shores, Omens (Leicester, England), 1978.

A Dream of Maps, Raven Arts Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1981.

A Round House, Allison and Busby (New York, NY), 1983.

The Lame Waltzer, Allison and Busby (London, England), 1985.

Blue Shoes, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1989.

Cacti, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1992.

The Blue Taps, Prospero Poets (London, England), 1994.

(With Helen Dunmore and Jo Shapcott) Penguin Modern Poets 12, Penguin (London, England), 1997.

The Bridal Suite, J. Cape (London, England), 1997.

A Smell of Fish, J. Cape (London, England), 2000.

Selected Poems, J. Cape (London, England), 2002.

Sanctuary, J. Cape (London, England), 2004.


One for Jimmy: An Anthology from the Hereford and Worcester Poetry Project, Hereford and Worcester County Council, 1992.

(With Jo Shapcott) Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times, Faber (London, England), 1996.

(With Ken Smith) Beyond Bedlam: Poems Written out of Mental Distress, Dufour Editions (Chester Springs, PA), 1997.

The New Faber Book of Children's Verse, Faber (London, England), 2001.


(With John Hartley Williams) Writing Poetry and Getting Published, NTC Publishing Group (Lincolnwood, IL), 1997, 2nd edition, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2003.

Contributor to periodicals, including Cyphers, Green Lines, Honest Ulsterman, Limestone, New Poetry, Pacific Quarterly, Tablet, and Resurgence.

Sweeney's works have been translated into Romanian, Spanish, Latvian, Slovakian, German, Dutch, Italian, Croatian, and Japanese.

Work in Progress

A thriller novel, with Jon Hartley Williams; a second children's novel.


An award-winning poet in his native Ireland and in the countries wherein his work has been published in translation, Matthew Sweeney has also written several children's books, including several poetry anthologies geared for younger readers. Sweeney's poems for children, as well as those he writes for adults, are known for telling stories. According to Medbh McGuckian writing in Books and Bookmen, "in a short space he can manufacture a whole complicated narrative plot." Sweeney's poems often focus on characters who are facing grim situations. While the unusual is often present in these poems, the poet also portrays the ordinary in an offbeat and even eerie manner. The sometimes horrific subjects found in Sweeney's poetry for adults are also found in his work written for children. Sweeney "does not fit easily into any category," Sheila Flanagan and Rachel O'Flanagan stated in an essay published in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers, adding that "His works are not in the mainstream and are characterised by a somewhat bleak vision of life and a downbeat atmosphere." While Sweeney lived and worked for many years in England, he has lived in Germany and Romania as well, but frequently returns to England where he teaches and runs poetry workshops for both children and adults.

Sweeney's poems for young readers, which are included in the collections The Flying Spring Onion, Fatso in the Red Suit, and Up on the Roof: New and Selected Poems, are "comic, sad, faintly menacing, [and] sometimes possessed of strange Magritte-like properties," Charles Causley explained in the Times Educational Supplement. Speaking of the collection The Flying Spring Onion, Flanagan and O'Flanagan found "a macabre and occasionally menacing humour" at work. In the poem "Into the Mixer," for example, a boy falls into a cement mixer and comes out stiff and silent. "Worrying Days" tells of a donkey who wrongly believes himself safe from the slaughterhouse, while "Big Sister" finds an older sister pegging the baby to the clothesline along with the rest of the laundry. Morag Styles, reviewing Up on the Roof for the Times Educational Supplement, described Sweeney as "a challenging poet whose work can be tender, funny and unsettling" and whose appeal for children lies in the fact that he possesses a "terrific sense of the ridiculous."

In addition to poetry, Sweeney has also authored several books of fiction for children, including The Snow Vulture and the novel Fox, the story of a boy who, in his travels around his urban neighborhood, meets and befriends a homeless man and the man's companion, a young, tame fox. Sweeney's picture book, The Snow Vulture tells the story of twin brothers, Clive and Carl. Even though twins, the brothers have opposite personalities: Clive is easygoing while Carl is mean spirited. When the two brothers play in the snow, Clive builds a snowman while Carl creates a snow vulture which comes to evil life. The creature wreaks such havoc that the two boys must join forces to save themselves. The monstrous snow vulture "is a powerfully-conceived horror," Neil Philip wrote in the Times Educational Supplement.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Harmon, Maurice, editor, The Irish Writer and the City, Barnes and Noble (Totowa, NJ), 1984.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Books and Bookmen, March, 1979, Derek Stanford, review of Without Shores, p. 34; March, 1986, Medbh McGuckian, review of The Lame Waltzer, p. 24.

Books for Keeps, March, 1995, review of The Snow Vulture, p. 12; September, 1995, Jack Ousbey, review of Fatso in the Red Suit, p. 25; September, 2001, Clive Barnes, review of The New Faber Book of Children's Verse, p. 28.

British Book News, December, 1983, Robert Greacen, review of A Round House, p. 774; March, 1986, review of The Lame Waltzer, p. 181.

Community Care, December 18, 1997, Julia Tugendhat, review of Beyond Bedlam, p. 29.

Critical Survey, January, 1998, Michael Faherty, "Learning How to Fall: The Not So Secret Narratives of Matthew Sweeney," p. 93; September, 2001, Michael Murphy, review of A Smell of Fish, p. 120.

Junior Bookshelf, October, 1992, review of The Flying Spring Onion, p. 212.

New Statesman, August 24, 1984, Michael Hofmann, "The Prudence Farmer Award," pp. 21-22; January 31, 1986, John Lucas, review of The Lame Waltzer, p. 32; January 16, 1987, John Lucas, "The Inherited Boundaries: Younger Poets of the Republic of Ireland," p. 30.

New Statesman and Society, April 7, 1989, John Lucas, review of Blue Shoes, pp. 39, 40.

Observer (London, England), February 12, 1984, Peter Porter, review of A Round House, p. 52; January 26, 1986, Peter Porter, review of The Lame Waltzer, p. 50; April 23, 1989, Peter Porter, review of Blue Shoes, p.44; December 3, 1995, Kate Kellaway, review of Fatso in the Red Suit, p. 16; February 1, 1998, Kate Kellaway, review of The Bridal Suite, p. 17; May 28, 2000, Helen Dunmore, review of A Smell of Fish, p. 12.

School Librarian, August, 1992, I. Anne Rowe, review of The Flying Spring Onion, p. 111; February, 1996, Lucinda Fox, review of Fatso in the Red Suit, p. 29; autumn, 2001, Martin Axford, review of Up on the Roof, p. 154.

Stand, autumn, 1993, Fred Beake, review of Cacti, pp. 79-80.

Times Educational Supplement, February 14, 1992, Charles Causley, review of The Flying Spring Onion, p. 27; December 4, 1992, Neil Philip, review of The Snow Vulture, p. 8; April 20, 2001, Morag Styles, review of The New Faber Book of Children's Verse, p. 21; June 22, 2001, Morag Styles, review of Up on the Roof, p.22.

Times Literary Supplement, September 24, 1982, Tim Dooley, review of A Dream of Maps, p. 1041; May 11, 1984, Michael O'Neill, review of A Round House, p. 516; May 16, 1986, Mick Imlah, review of The Lame Waltzer, p. 540; April 7, 1989, Lawrence Norfolk, review of Blue Shoes, p. 365; November 6, 1992, Ian Sansom, review of Cacti, p. 26; March 14, 1997, Kevan Johnson, review of Emergency Kit, p. 23; March 6, 1998, Michael Parker, review of The Bridal Suite, p.25; March 2, 2001, Nick Laird, review of A Smell of Fish, p. 24.


British Council Web site, http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (December 2, 2004), "Matthew Sweeney."

Lidia Vianu Web site, http://lidiavianu.scriptmania.com/ (July, 2002), Lidia Vianu, "Imagistic Narrative: Interview with Matthew Sweeney."

Wordfest, http://www.wordfest.com/ (October 12, 2003), "Lesson Plans: Up on the Roof by Matthew Sweeney.*

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