About Matthew Sweeney

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).

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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.

Selected Bibliography

The Flying Spring Onion, Faber, 1992

Fatso in the Red Suit, Faber, 1995

The New Faber Book of Children's Verse, Faber, 2001

The New Faber Book of Children's Poems, Faber Children's Books, 2003


2007 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) - Black Moon

1999 Arts Council Writers' Award

1987 Cholmondeley Award

1984 New Statesman Prudence Farmer Award