Tomorrow it’s a year since the Irish poet Matthew Sweeney died. He was just 65 and died of motor neurone disease.
I took the photo in 2006 when I attended a week-long course with Matthew at the wonderful Almassera Vella in Spain. He was like a dog with a bone about adjectives, but otherwise warm and funny. I learned a great deal that week.
The poem Fishbones Dreaming features in Writing Poetry, a publication in the Teach Yourself series. It’s packed with ideas and good exercises. Matthew wrote it with the poet John Hartley Williams. They both lived in Berlin for a period and were friends. The friendship clearly shows in the bits of dialogue where they introduce the exercises.
Fishbones Dreaming starts: Fishbones lay in the smelly bin. / He was a head, a backbone and a tail. / Soon the cats would be in for him.
The refrain is: He didn’t like to be this way. / He shuts his eyes and dreamed back.
The poem uses a gradual flashback technique, with the refrain dividing the stanzas: a stanza about being on plate, next to the green beans, a stanza about being in the freezer with lamb cutlets, about squirming in a net, and so on. Till he is darting through the sea, past crabs and jellyfish.
My poem below was written in response. It was published in my debut collection Another life.
He leaves work early,
walks past the pub,
dropping an old raincoat
into the Ribble.
Preston is still Preston,
If he can walk backwards
to the railway station,
he will catch himself
in the windows.
There is his 40th birthday,
Here are the empty Sundays.
Swans, a football, his parents, baby sister.