Matthew Sweeney’s palette in My Life as a Painter features a wild mix of birds and animals: lizards, snakes, rats, camels, donkeys, feral cats, dogs and owls. One dog transmits telepathic requests for the food he wants, and there’s a parrot who speaks as ambassador for the bird world. Sweeney’s canvas here is the transhuman: where boundaries between human and non-human can’t be fixed, dreams turn into torments, secrets stay hidden, strange communiqués remain unclear, and the natural weirdness of his native Donegal verges on the surreal.
There are poems ostensibly about art, artists and filmmaking which are as much portraits of the poet and the difficulties of writing poetry. Other poems offer oblique perspectives on religion, warfare, migration and displacement; or go off at a tangent to explore the imaginative possibilities of everything from Michigan’s Mullett Lake and the geysers of Iceland to rope-ladders, tin-mines, a giant blue cabbage and an old thrown-out Christmas tree.
My Life as a Painter was Matthew Sweeney's twelfth collection, published shortly before his untimely death from motor neurone disease in 2018, but written before he became ill. It will be followed in 2020 by Shadow of the Owl, a collection of the poems he wrote during his final difficult year of debilitating illness.
'...one of the most adventurous, life-enhancing and distinctive poets of his gifted generation.' – Bill Swainson paying tribute to the late Matthew Sweeney in The Guardian
'Matthew had the courage of his own idiosyncratic sensibility; nobody now writing has Matthew’s gift for employing language and images of fable to such a dark and unsettling effect, ringing the changes from tenderness to dark comedy with such power and verve.' – Theo Dorgan, paying tribute to Matthew Sweeney in The Irish Times
‘Matthew Sweeney has been a singular presence in Irish poetry for decades, and the much-travelled, Donegal-born poet had finished two reassuringly characteristic new books before his death in August. One of them, My Life as a Painter, includes many new signature poems, tales whose surprising images suddenly gather additional narrative force.’ – John McAuliffe, The Irish Times
‘… his was a poetry of great possibility, a poetry of hope – for all its apparent darkness – a poetry of an imagined, alternative reality.’ – Keith Payne, Dublin Review of Books [on Matthew Sweeney’s 12th collection My Life as a Painter]
‘In Sweeney’s universe everything has multiple and perplexing meanings – his ‘alternative realism’ permits the everyday to co-exist with the fantastic in equally poignant and hilarious ways.’ – Pippa Little, Magma [on My Life as a Painter]
‘Sweeney… carries us with him on strange, riddling trajectories in his inimitable, pleasingly conversational manner.’ – Michael Glover, The Tablet [on My Life as a Painter]
‘There’s an exuberance about the fantastical imagery of Cork-based Matthew Sweeney that gives his work the kind of popular accessibility you don’t often find in a poet so accomplished and experienced. Despite the fact that My Life as Painter is his 12th collection, he remains not only committed to taking his art to its highest form, but to ensuring his words still touch his readers.’ – Cork Evening Echo
‘If I had to single out the essential characteristic of Matthew Sweeney’s poetry, my term would be “benign anarchy”. Often described as a surrealist, Sweeney does more than play with estranged and heightened reality: he’s a protector of the morality of subversion.’ – Carol Rumens, Poem of the Week, TheGuardian.com [choosing a poem from My Life as a Painter]
Matthew Sweeney reads from Horse Music
Matthew Sweeney introduces and reads six poems from Horse Music (2013): 'Horse Music', 'Fans', 'The Tunnel', 'Sunday Morning', 'The Slow Story of No' and 'Booty'. Neil Astley filmed Matthew Sweeney at his home in Cork in February 2012.
Matthew Sweeney reads from Inquisition Lane at Ledbury
Matthew Sweeney reads and introduces five poems from Inquisition Lane: ‘The Biggest Task’, The Insurance Agent’, ‘Into the Air’, ‘Elegy for the Moonman’ and ‘Inquistion Lane’. Filmed by Neil Astley, this video shows part of his reading following an interview with Maitreyabandhu at the Adisthana Retreat Centre, Coddington, part of Ledbury Poetry Festival on 6 July 2016.