The shoplifter and the hermit …

It is three years since the poet Matthew Sweeney died. I was fortunate of having a whole week with him at the wonderful Almassera Vella, Spain in 2006. I learned a great deal. The photo was taken in the garden by the infinity pool.


One of my favourite books about writing is Teach Yourself Writing Poetry. It was written by Matthew and his friend and poet John Hartley Williams. It is packed with exercises, and I love the book because in between the exercises there is dialogue, chat, discussion. I can hear their voices as they talk (I’m sure over a glass of wine). Wit and poignancy.


The Hermit was written on a workshop. We were given Sweeney’s poem The Shoplifter and asked to think about someone with an unusual occupation and what life would be like for them when they retired. Both the shoplifter and hermit now live by the sea. Sweeney’s shoplifter has ‘fronds of marijuana’ outside, has ‘learned the use of coins’ and has a use for all those books:


His books come in useful now
as each time he has shinned

with an aerial up the chimney
Viking wind has ripped it down.

The Hermit


The hermit had to be retired
for health and safety reasons.

He was flown out of the desert,
given a dictionary and glasses.

He is renting an old longhouse,
leaves doors and windows open

so he can smell the cool air,
but still he cannot sleep.

The postman was his first visitor.
Mail lies piled up by the gate.

The grains of sand on the beach
make him feel homesick even now.

By the light of a candle he may
be able to look in the mirror, but not yet.

1 thought on “The shoplifter and the hermit …

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