Aosdána poet Matthew Sweeney dies at 66 of motor neurone disease
‘One of the finest poets of his generation, a craftsman of the highest achievement’
A prolific writer, Matthew Sweeney had published numerous collections of poetry, including Inquisition Lane (2015) and Horse Music (2013).
Tributes have been paid to poet Matthew Sweeney, who has died aged 66. The Lifford, Co Donegal-born poet, who lived in Cork, had motor neurone disease.
He had launched his most recent collection of poetry, My Life as a Painter, in April at the Cork World Book Fest.
He was a member of Aosdána, which honours outstanding contributions to the creative arts.
A prolific writer, he had published numerous collections of poetry, including Inquisition Lane (2015) and Horse Music (2013).
Other collections included The Night Post: A Selection (Salt, 2010) and Black Moon (Jonathan Cape, 2007), which was shortlisted for both the TS Eliot Prize and for The Irish Times Poetry Now Award.
He also co-wrote a satirical thriller, Death Comes for the Poets (2012), set in the world of contemporary poetry, along with English poet John Hartley Williams.
He moved to Cork after living in London, Berlin and Timisoara in Romania. A graduate of the Polytechnic of North London and the University of Freiburg, he was writer in residence at UCC from 2012-2013.
Poet Theo Dorgan described him as “one of the finest poets of his generation, a craftsman of the highest achievement, with a distinct music all his own”.
“More than this, though, and from the start, he had the courage of his own idiosyncratic sensibility; nobody now writing has Matthew’s gift for employing the language and images of fable to such dark and unsettling effect, ringing the changes from tenderness to dark comedy with such power and verve.”
Dorgan said that “with book-length translations into German, Dutch, Latvian, Slovakian, Romanian and Mexican Spanish, he reached deep into cultures not his own – a counterpoint, I should say, to his own enduring and sustained work as a gifted and respected translator.
“Always, he was determined to place his poetry in the largest possible context. Matthew was a kind and witty man, a good and helpful friend to young poets, a stalwart colleague and, faced with a terminal diagnosis, brave and true to the end.”
Poet Gerry Murphy said “poetry was his whole life. I used to meet him once a week for lunch. We’d give out about editors, especially people who had turned us down.
“I’d get annoyed, but Matthew would get really annoyed. He’d be banging the table and people would be thinking ‘They’re having a right row’. I would have great fun with him.”
In an interview earlier this year with the Irish Examiner, he was asked what would his legacy be. He said: “Mostly what awaits the poet is posthumous oblivion. Maybe there will be a young man in Hamburg, or Munich, or possibly Vienna, for whom my German translations will be for a while important – and might just contribute to him becoming a German language poet with Irish leanings.
“Certainly one thing that’s pleased me in recent years was a suggestion in a review of my last book that I may be responsible for some younger poets venturing into the weird, more surreal zone. That would be something.”
Poet and Irish Times poetry editor Gerard Smyth said Matthew Sweeney occupied “his own distinctive place in Irish poetry, a place from which he had a slanted view that made his work unlike that of any of his contemporaries, frequently going places others might hesitate to approach”.
"He was a maker of modern parables, what he called his ‘alternative realism’.
“He could be funny, whimsical, playful and inventive, often angry but always honest and humane. The energy of his public readings matched the fiery imagination to be found in the poems. The title of his early collection A Dream of Maps suggested a poet without boundaries.
“I always sensed that in the first instance he regarded himself as a European rather than an Irish poet – and rightly so: like the German Georg Trakl whom he admired he apprehended the world in a way that challenged our perceptions and commanded our attention.”