Books: The Bridal Suite by Matthew Sweeney (Jonathan Cape pounds 7)
Thursday 09 October 1997
His poetry lives in the imagination's move out to the unknown. The work is one large metaphor: a parable for the human condition. Which is, of course, being alone in a world of Kafka-esque ambush.
Tragedy is Sweeney's starting-point, but he tackles it quietly. Like the sun in the fable, he gets your coat off not by blowing up a storm, but by his gleefully, weirdly black humour. "A shoelace and a penis lying in a field / on a cold blue February morning... Does anyone / know yet the penis is gone?" One speaker, alone "in the bridal suite / without the bride", can't "handle another night like that / not wet, as held expected / but not dry either". This loneliness, heightened by wry smiles, is unique to Sweeney. The American Charles Simic achieves it, but there the emotional work is done mainly by objects. In Sweeney, people count.
The Bridal Suite is Sweeney's finest, most open collection yet. Several poems are marked "in memoriam"; one heartrending elegy describes a pilot who crash-landed but survived, unlike the addressee. Masses of sex, mostly implied; but in "Initiation" a shepherd samples solitary pleasures in London. "At least this way he wouldn't need blood tests". He finally makes it with two women: "different from the goat, he thought / as the short woman coaxed him stiff".
The Bridal Suite is about the incompleteness, loss and sadness of relationships; also about redemption through imagination, humour, and the sharing of both. Freud, according to Auden, "would have us be enthusiastic over the night". At the end of The Bridal Suite, the poet calls through a window to a bat: "Lovely creature of the night / come back, I miss you".
Sweeney is a paid-up confederate of Freud's night fauna. Hence the drownings, coffins, graveyards in his work, but also the humour, the surreal dreams. Sweeney is one of our finest poets of the unconscious; of darkness brought to light and madly, glintingly, against all expectation, shared.
Life & Style blogs
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
War is war: Why I stand with Israel
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Emergency data law: David Cameron plots to bring back snoopers’ charter
NUT strike: David Cameron announces crackdown on strike action ahead of mass industrial action
- 1 Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
- 2 Israel-Gaza conflict: ‘Sderot cinema’ image shows Israelis with popcorn and chairs 'cheering as missiles strike Palestinian targets'
- 3 Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
- 4 Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country
- 5 Barack Obama fist bumps Texas restaurant employee in support of gay rights
Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role exists for a...
£25000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...
£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...
£30000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...