Matthew Sweeney

Matthew Sweeney’s collection Horse Music has just come out from Bloodaxe. His satirical novel, Death Comes for the Poets, written with John Hartley Williams, appeared recently from the Muswell Press.

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 25 April 2013

The Twins

are far from identical. One is half-blind, the other hunts small birds with a crossbow.

One has a decent tenor voice, the other rasps out the obituaries on local radio.

One is vegan, the other eats everything, and his favourite meat is bush rat, which

he frequents African restaurants to ingest. His brother fails to accompany him there.

What have they in common? Blond hair, a liking...

Poem: ‘The Warning’

Matthew Sweeney, 22 November 2012

That sizzling morning, I lay on the lawn, beneath the totem pole I’d brought back from Nevada, and painted white and black, to ward off ghouls, ghosts and evil men.

I had Coltrane playing from the hallway and was humming along. The black cat was poking and hissing at the white cat, when a crow landed a couple of feet away.

Both cats scarpered when he opened his beak and cawed, dropping...

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 2 December 2010

The Glass Chess Set

He woke to find a glass chess set by his head, on the bedside table. The vitamins had been removed, the lamp shifted to the floor, the two glasses of water were gone – all this done without a noise. He sat up to see it better. Everything was glass – the board, the pieces, half of these clear, half opaque, as were the alternating squares. He got out of bed to...

Poem: ‘Snow, Ice’

Matthew Sweeney, 25 June 2009

In spite of the snow, he powered his bike down the freezing road, avoiding the dogs that gambolled there, shitting and pissing, barking and growling. He cursed them all, their scarfed and gloved owners, too, also the cars that passed him by too close, the monster buses that wanted to crush him, the fat cold moon in the smoggy sky above.

His mouth recalled the taste of brandy-balls, sucked...

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 19 June 2008

The Vintner’s Boat

The vintner rowed his boat as close to the lake’s shore as he dared, and in the prow stood a five litre bottle of his Cabernet Franc Barrique. A big man, he powered on, past sunbathers, past sleepers, past fisherfolk, whose lines he took care to avoid. Behind him, a school of perch grew in numbers, as if all were reincarnated drinkers. The odd shout encouraged...

Three Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 22 March 2007

Night Music

He stood on the roof with a saxophone playing across the road. It was dark, no one could see him. Passing cars – though few at this hour – drowned him out, but he swooped back into hearing, sending high arcs of sound across to the block of flats on the other side. A woman stuck her head out a window, shouting. A man fired potato missiles, all missing. He played on, now...

Poem: ‘Black Moon’

Matthew Sweeney, 3 August 2006

For white he used toothpaste, for red, blood – but only his own that he hijacked just enough of each day.

For green he crushed basil in a little olive oil. His yellow was egg yolk, his black, coal dust dampened with water.

He tried several routes to blue before stopping at the intersection of bilberry juice and pounded bluebells.

His brown was his own, too, applied last thing in the day...

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 21 April 2005


Everywhere it’s raining except here where the mosquitoes thrive and the car alarms wail at each other all through the dog-moaning night, and just before dawn that smell of onions frying brings the image of a fat ghost chef whose insomnia is dealt with like this, making me rush to the kitchen to catch him but he and the smell are always gone. And sleep has no chance at all then,...

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 22 July 2004

Being Met

Two cars arrived at the airport, both of them to collect Cecil. The two drivers stood on the concourse outside the exit from customs, each holding up Cecil’s name. His bag was last on the carousel, so when the glass door released him only these two were waiting. He went up to one, then the other. He left his bag on the ground. The two were trying to persuade him that they were...

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 19 June 2003


Stay awhile. Don’t go just yet. The sirens are roaming the streets, the stabbing youths are out in packs, there’s mayhem in the tea leaves. You’re much better off staying here. I have a Bordeaux you’ll like, let’s open it. (I’ve a second bottle, too.) And a goat’s cheese to fast for, also a blue from the Vale of Cashel – and the source...

Poem: ‘Horse Dreams’

Matthew Sweeney, 5 September 2002

Why does the horse stand there staring at the horizon? Is it waiting on some rider arriving by car from the airport? Isn’t its grass enough for it and the freedom of the field?

Oblivious to midges and nightfall it snorts and hoofs the ground, tail tossing like a fly swat, but those big sad eyes still focus on that bend in the road.

Perhaps it dreams of galloping all the way to the...

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 8 February 2001

Days of German

St Francis didn’t speak German to the robins he fed, nor did Scott as he trudged through the snow, but I did as I crossed the border to Alsace-Lorraine all that winter of ‘77, to dine on choucroute, stock up on wine – bootfuls of it – and bring back ripe munster to stink out the shared fridge on that final 13th floor of the Studenten Wohnheim, from whose...

Poem: ‘The Ice Hotel’

Matthew Sweeney, 30 March 2000

I’m going back to the ice hotel, this time under a false name as I need to stay there again.

I’ll stand in the entrance hall, marvelling at this year’s design, loving the way it can’t be the same

because ice melts and all here is ice – the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the seats in the lobby, the bed.

Not that I lay on naked ice, but on the skins of reindeers,...

Poem: ‘Swimmer’

Matthew Sweeney, 16 September 1999

For the umpteenth time I looked out at the sea but there was nothing to catch my eye, just a man wheeling a barrow up the beach. I looked again, frisking the whole expanse for a ship, a boat, any floating debris but all I saw was a cat in the marram grass slinking towards three rabbits playing. The waves were apologetic on the shingle, after the excesses of the previous night, and the sun had...

Three Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 3 October 1996

A Picnic on Ice

For Tom Lynch

Let’s go back to Mullett Lake in March and have a picnic on the ice. Let’s wrap up like Inuits, and meet three miles north of Indian River, where the jetty stands in summer front of 577 Grandview Beach. We’ll cram in Lynch’s vintage hearse and motor slowly out onto the ice, where I’ll spread my blue tablecloth and as it darkens...

Two Poems

Matthew Sweeney, 24 August 1995


Last year I was going downstairs, now I’m going upstairs. Up there is a rocking horse in red velvet. I’ll dust him off with a crow’s wing, then I’ll shake the kitchen ceiling. I’ll jump off in mid-buck, onto the round water-bed I bounced on with black-haired, patchouli-scented X to the drawl of Mick Jagger. I’ll take the brass telescope to the...

Poem: ‘Imagined Arrival’

Matthew Sweeney, 21 July 1983

White are the streets in this shabbiest- grown of the world’s great cities, whiter than marshmallow angels. Descending by parachute, one would be arriving in a world long dead. One would also be stiff with cold.

And if one, perhaps, would dangle there in a skeletal tree, swigging brandy from the equipment, rubbing fur ear-flaps, one would have a view of the street unhindered by...

Poem: ‘The Servant’

Matthew Sweeney, 2 June 1983

I am summoned: a double handclap from my mother’s ivory hands and I fill the silver tureen with pumpkin soup the colour of oranges. I enter on feet of air. Her smile subsides like a wave on sand pointing me towards the curtain of mauve velvet where I must stand.

Wine is shared. A toast to mother updates a grace before meals then the ladle becomes a wand and oohs climb from warmed...

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