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Matthew Sweeney obituary

Much-loved poet Matthew Sweeney has died of motor neurone disease aged 66. Born in Lifford, Co Donegal, he was prolific to the end, publishing two new collections in 2018 alone. My Life As an Artist (Bloodaxe) and King of a Rainy Country (Arc) were inspired by Baudelaire’s posthumously published Petits Poèmes en Prose

Matthew studied German and English at the Polytechnic of North London and the University of Freiburg in Germany. His poetry, often fable-like and humorous, shows the influence of Irish- and German-language literary traditions and writers, including Franz Kafka. Always international in outlook, his poetry has been translated into Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Latvian, Mexican Spanish, Romanian, Slovakian and, perhaps closest to his heart, two full-length collections, Rosa Milch (2002) and Hund und Mond (2017), have appeared in German, translated by the poet Jan Wagner.

In addition to 14 adult poetry collections, Matthew also wrote for children. His first children's collection, The Flying Spring Onion (1992), was followed by Fatso in the Red Suit (1995). With Jo Shapcott he edited Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (1996), an anthology for everybody, but especially for those reading poetry for the first time; later he edited The New Faber Book of Children’s Verse (2001); both books are still in print today (and frequently mentioned by library staff when giving advice to budding poets!).

As well as writing his own poetry, Matthew was a great encourager of poetry in others. He led incredibly vibrant workshops, famed for their geniality and playfulness.

Sometime in the late 1980s I attended one of these workshops in an upstairs room of a pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, where the poems were circulated anonymously and carefully read and commented on by all. Around the pushed-together tables were Ruth Padel, Eva Salzman, Don Paterson, Maurice Riordan, Jo Shapcott, Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Donaghy, Maura Dooley and Tim Dooley.
Bill Swainson, The Guardian, 2018

Matthew held residencies at the University of East Anglia, here at Southbank Centre, and University College Cork.

We have lost not only a wonderful poet but a huge prescence from the poetic community. Matthew will be much missed by us all.