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A Smell Of Fish (Cape poetry) Paperback – 2 Mar 2000


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Amazon Review

A Smell of Fish is Irish-born, London-berthed Sweeney's seventh volume of poetry and his 14th book in total. As such, the sense of a writer hitting a mid-season peak, fully in control of his talents and powers, is palpable. And the range of styles is impressive, too: by turns sombre, funny, detached, passionate, Sweeney is keen to play every octave on poetry's piano--and to experiment with voices not entirely his own.

Sometimes, like in the city man's dream of freedom that is the Appointment, his whimsical nature imagery is reminiscent of W.B. Yeats; "so he jumped in and swam / and a red-tailed hawk / led him to the island / where among the silverbirch / he found a lantern". In other poems, like the wittily acerbic Roadkill, he sounds like Ted Hughes in a bit of a bad mood: "Scrape the cat off the road / take it home and fillet out the flesh / throw it in the marinade".

The more experimental poems are always intriguing, if not always entirely successful. In the middle of the collection is a series of haikus, the best of which, like Hangover ("Look a drunk lying / in a canoe / being walked on / by a pair of skunks"), are oddly but tellingly comic. Immediately after them comes a chunk of very freely translated Dante: "what's your name?" / Fame is the last thing I want / Fuck off and don't annoy me further".

A Smell of Fish ends with a suite of related poems, themed around the bleak surreal beauty of the English littoral at Thorpeness. These are the best poems in the book: sardonic, lyrical, strongly imagined. For Sweeney, Thorpeness is a place where waves "are apologetic on the shingle/after the excesses of the previous night", where the "white dome of Sizewell / is the bald head of a killer". Taken together the Thorpeness verses form a vivid and resonant conclusion to a coveted collection. --Sean Thomas

Review

"Sweeney's poems are reflective, funny, supremely inventive and impeccably written. This is contemporary poetry at its very best" (Charles Simic)

"Matthew Sweeney is a unique force for good in British poetry. The work is one large metaphor, a parable for the human condition... He is one of our finest poets of the unconscious; of darkness brought to life and madly, glintingly, against all expectation, shared" (Ruth Padel Independent)

"The poems are rich with situation and character, embryos of narrative, pulsing with implicit life... Sweeney has full command of the devices of poetry: sound, image, rhythm adn form, and a sly sense of humour" (Financial Times Ruth Fainlight)

"Darkly comic" (Guardian)

"Sweeney's poems are like shards of mirror. As you bend to look more closely, they cut. His version from Dante's Inferno , a passage which deals with the damned locked in ice on the floor of Hell, is chilling and possesses a near -demonic energy. It seems that for Sweeney, as for Douglas Dunn, a long poem releases new force in the poet" (Observer)

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