Friday, 12 November 2010


I was in Dublin yesterday teaching a short fiction class to a lovely Tallaght-based writer's group so, as I was up, I stayed up to go to the launch of Matthew Sweeney's Salt published selected, The Night Post, at the Irish Writers' Centre. I'm so glad I braved the high winds and insane city traffic to do just that. It was an intimate event, with enthusiastic punters, and Matthew gave a great reading. Dennis O'Driscoll was there, and Paul Perry; also Gerry Smyth and Mary Noonan.

As you can see from the image above, the book itself is very handsome - Chris Hamilton-Emery at Salt is well known for creating beautiful covers via The Cover Factory. It's a hardback, with red endpapers and it is excellent value - there are 171 pages of poetry in this volume.

Cork poet Aidan Murphy, who has just won the Kavanagh Fellowship, launched the book for Matthew. They were friends in London from 1975 on and were steeped in each other's poetry from the moment they met, both being Irish, both writers, and both experimentalists. Aidan said 'The best poets never grow up' and he admires Matthew's childlike attitude to the world which, I think, manifests itself as a kind of detailed wonder in the poems. Aidan said that as poets he and Matthew were 'trying to get out of Irish ways of thinking, while not wanting to embrace anything English either'. Like all budding friendships based on writing, you could feel the excitement and sparks that were flying among them and their friend Robert Greacen at the time. Aidan said Matthew had a 'wonderful intensity' and, in those days, he would arrive early in the morning, to a sleepy Aidan, waving a new poem, full of excitement.

This book begins with half of a sequence of moon poems (16 poems) that Matthew wrote in those early days in London. Aidan noted that they are 'still lyrically haunting, structurally inventive and fresh'. And they are. I was challenged recently, by another writer, to write a cliché-free moon poem and I used Plath as my bouncing off point. When Matthew read from the Moon Poems he said when he wrote them he was 'riddled with Plath, Berryman and Shelley'. I was buzzing about this and, weirdly, outside over a stormy Parnell Square, there was a fingernail moon in the sky and I was wearing my crescent moon pendant. This is one of the things I love about the world of writing: happenstance - the coincidences, the serendipity and the sharing of themes and motifs.

Matthew said, in the Q&A, 'It's a very, very good thing to be influenced by other poets. It's important.' I agree - where would I be without Eavan Boland, Rita Ann Higgins, Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, Kerry Hardie, Eva Bourke et al?

A Matthew Sweeney reading is an event. He's an inventive, compelling reader and he's one of those poets who makes you feel that poetry is important and possible, and that a poem is a place where anything can - or should - happen. His poems are sparky, fascinating and full of mad surprises: there's a horse whose breath smells of Rescue Remedy; and a poet who is exiled to Aberystwyth, where he 'drones' his poems to the gulls.

Go Matthew! You make the world of poetry a much more interesting place. I hope this collection gets all the kudos it deserves.


Kar said...

I couldn’t agree with you more, Matthew does make the world of poetry a much more interesting place. I Loved last night, and listening to both Aidan and Matthew and their world of poetry, writing, adventure! oh to have been hanging around with them in London in the 70’s ;-)

The moon coincidences is wonderful too!

A great review of last night Nu!


It was a great night, Kar. A privilege to be there. And there was lovely wine :)

BarbaraS said...

Is it safe to say that you enjoyed the launch, then?

I enjoyed his last book, being at that launch in 2007, Black Moon (? jeepers doesn't time fly!) so I'm looking forward to this one a good deal. He picked one of my poems for a Guardian Poetry Workshop that year, so I thought I'd go and check him out. Turned out to be one of the best poetry nights I ever enjoyed. This is going on the Christmas list.

Rachel Fenton said...

Wine? Moon? Owoooooooo!

You convey the experience of it so well I felt like I was watching it from outside, peeking through a teeny window like the little match girl.

Ordering the book insoite of impending financial crisis!


B - totall enjoyed it. I don't always - it was a special one.

Rachel - the little match girl, aaawwwww. Love that story. N x

P. M. Doolan said...

Matthew will be launching this book in London on Tuesday, just in case anyone is in the area. The festivities will take place in a nice pub, the Betsey Trotswood, everyone welcome: