Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice
Shadow of the Owl is Matthew Sweeney's final collection, bringing together the poems he wrote during a year of debilitating illness. He died from Motor Neuron Disease in 2018 shortly after publishing My Life as a Painter, written before he became ill, but which was – like all his previous collections – preparation for this final work.
In a sequence of dark fables, a hapless figure is hounded by a procession of invisible enemies who want him dead. These jokers – kidnappers, assassins, liars all – have many methods at their disposal, from crucifixion or hanging to bombing or mauling by crocodile… A menacing owl comes to the garden each night for twelve nights, but refuses to deliver its devastating news.
All of Sweeney’s verve and spiky humour are present in these last poems, following, as always, the unnerving logic of dreams. But the dream has become a nightmare, and the catastrophe, impending in all the earlier collections, has now come to pass.
For more than forty years Matthew Sweeney sought to capture, in poetry, the life of a body menaced and condemned to wander in a terrifying place – but a body fully alive to the sensuous pleasures of the world, and the vulnerability of exposure to its loss. His final poems are imbued with a lyrical beauty and great sadness at leaving that world just as the spirit was burning as brightly as ever.
‘Shadow of the Owl by the much-loved Matthew Sweeney is another posthumously published title of note and contains moving poems of his final year living with illness.’ – Paul Perry, Sunday Independent (Books of the Year 2020)
'In Shadow of the Owl, Matthew Sweeney's dark fabulism takes his readers right up to the mouth of death... Sweeney has never been so funny, the darkness never so seductive and terrifying as here in the stream of poems that poured out between his diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease in 2017 and his death 10 months later.' - Martina Evans, The Irish Times (Poetry Books of 2020)
‘The posthumous publication of Matthew Sweeney’s final poetry collection, Shadow of the Owl, marks the culmination of the poet’s unique incorporation of fabulist sensibilities and imagery into a traditional narrative poetic approach. As the culmination of this style, which Sweeney called a type of “imagistic narrative” or “alternative realism”, the poems in Shadow of the Owl give full expression to this poet’s song. The collection’s origins lie in Sweeney’s final year living with illness, but triumphantly the book affirms life and art in beautiful, imaginative and often humorous ways.’ – Tim Murphy, Dublin Review of Books
'Despite the tragic subject matter Sweeney refuses sentimentality, at least explicitly, calling instead on his much-celebrated humour and unfettered imagination, which throughout his
life, won him the affection of so many readers. A poet of great wit and invention who'll be deeply missed by so many of us.' - Anthony Anaxagorou, Poetry Book Society Bulletin, on Shadow of the Owl, his PBS Winter Wild Card Choice
‘It’s a beautiful book, a reminder of the poet we have lost, and a courageous affirmation of the power of the imagination in the face of death.’ – Andy Croft, Morning Star [on Shadow of the Owl]