Matthew Sweeney's tenth collection of poems is as sinister as its dark forebears, but the notes he hits in "Horse Music" are lyrical and touching as well as disturbing and disquieting. Confronting him in these imaginative riffs are not just the perplexing animals and folklorish crows familiar from his earlier books, but also magical horses, ghosts, dwarfs and gnomes. Central to the book are a group of Berlin poems - introducing us to, among things, the birds of Chamissoplatz who warn of coming ecological disaster, or the horses who swim across the Wannsee to pay homage to Heinrich von Kleist in his grave. Many poems in the book range freely across the borders of realism into an alternative realism, while others stay within what Elizabeth Bishop called 'the surrealism of everyday life' - such as a tale about Romanian gypsies removing bit by bit an abandoned car. "Horse Music" is not only Matthew Sweeney's most adventurous book to date, it is also his most varied, including not only outlandish adventures and macabre musings, but also moving responses to family deaths - balanced by a poem to a newborn, picturing the strange new world that will unfold for her.
That strange world unfolds for us too in the eerie poems of Horse Music.
'A poet of obsession and ritual...often elusive or mysterious...enlivened with his saturnine, uncomfortably insistent humour...Ambitious and troubling, linking Ireland to the Black Sea and madness to history, grim as death and very funny' - Sean O'Brien, Guardian. 'Haunting fables of entrapment or imprisonment, of troubled sleep, of persecution and loneliness treated with Kafkaesque attention to detail' - Alan Brownjohn, Sunday Times. 'With its landscapes of desolate isolations, his is often an evocatively noirish world of contemporary angst - The persona of the poems is a troubled, self-aware consciousness taking in but never quite making sense of a contemporary world of fragments, a consciousness stretched and strained, but untouched by self-indulgence, self-pity or self-regard' - Eamon Grennan, Irish Times.
Matthew Sweeney was born in Lifford, Co. Donegal, Ireland in 1952. He moved to London in 1973 and studied at the Polytechnic of North London and the University of Freiburg. After living in Berlin and Timisoara for some years, he returned to Ireland and now lives in Cork. His poetry collections include A Dream of Maps (Raven Arts Press, 1981), A Round House (Raven Arts Press, 1983), The Lame Waltzer (Raven Arts Press, 1985), Blue Shoes (Secker & Warburg, 1989), Cacti (Secker & Warburg, 1992), The Bridal Suite (Jonathan Cape, 1997) and A Smell of Fish (Jonathan Cape, 2000), Selected Poems (Jonathan Cape, 2002), Sanctuary (Jonathan Cape, 2004), Black Moon (Jonathan Cape, 2007), The Night Post: A Selection (Salt, 2010) and Horse Music (Bloodaxe Books, 2013). Black Moon was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award. He has also published editions of selected poems in Canada (Picnic on Ice, Vehicule Press, 2002) and in Germany (Rosa Milch, bilingual trs. Jan Wagner, Berlin Verlag, 2008). He won a Cholmondeley Award in 1987 and an Arts Council Writers' Award in 1999. He has also published poetry for children, with collections including The Flying Spring Onion (1992), Fatso in the Red Suit (1995) and Up on the Roof: New and Selected Poems (2001). His novels for children include The Snow Vulture (1992) and Fox (2002). He edited The New Faber Book of Children's Poems (2003) and Walter De la Mare: Poems (2006) for Faber; co-edited Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (Faber, 1996) with Jo Shapcott; and co-wrote Writing Poetry (Teach Yourself series, Hodder, 1997) with John Hartley Williams. Matthew Sweeney has held residencies at the University of East Anglia and the South Bank Centre in London, and was Poet in Residence at the National Library for the Blind as part of the Poetry Places scheme run by the Poetry Society in London. He is a member of Aosdana.