It was sad to read yesterday others commenting on the news that poet Matthew Sweeney is suffering from motor neuron disease, as reported in Monday’s Irish Examiner.
I don’t know him personally and/or had the pleasure of working with him as some of those commentators have – expressing their love and respect for Sweeney and his writing – but I have enjoyed immensely the poetry of his I have read and additionally recall with great fondness using his storytelling poems with students.
I offered these up from Sweeney’s four collections Cacti, The Bridal Suite, A Smell of Fish and Sanctuary where students could select and use his poems as stimulus for their A level Text Transformation writing projects. The surreal and open-ended narratives of so many of his poems offered students considerable creative opportunities to, firstly, be stimulated by the magic of their inventiveness, and secondly, use this as prompts for their own writing – taking his ideas to their own imaginative places.
I was prompted to share this reflection because of the following and concluding Q and A from the IE report:
What will be your legacy?
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.
It is a self-effacing, amusing and touching response from Sweeney, and I know from experience he definitely did impact positively and inspirationally on younger writers because I will never forget their engagement with his writing and ideas and how this fuelled their own creativities.