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Matthew Geden reviews new fiction by Matthew Sweeney & John Hartley Williams




Matthew Geden

Born in England, Matthew Geden moved to Kinsale in 1990 and still lives in the town. He co-founded the SoundEye International Poetry Festival. His poems have appeared in several publications both at home and abroad including Something Beginning with P, Poets of the Millennium, The Backyards of Heaven and Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland. Lapwing published his Kinsale Poems as well as Autumn: Twenty Poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, translations from the French. His first full length collection, Swimming to Albania, was published by Bradshaw Books in 2009. A new collection, The Place Inside, was published by Dedalus in 2012.






Death Comes for the Poets by Sweeney & Hartley

Death Comes for the Poets

Matthew Sweeney & John Hartley Williams

(Muswell Press, 2012)

ISBN: 9780957213609

€8.98 E-book

Buy from Easons.ie





                      Death Comes for the Poets takes as its central theme the brutal murders of a number of established fictional poets by a serial killer. It is, therefore, likely to appeal to many who have regularly attended poetry readings throughout the country. More satisfying still is that each poet is killed in a manner appropriate to themes or images from their own work. Poets are dispatched with little pity and much malevolent violence. This novel then is very much a black comedy which contains playful digs at the poetry world in Britain, but which is relevant to similar coteries in Ireland and elsewhere.

            Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams are both renowned poets themselves with an impressive number of poetry collections behind them. More pertinently perhaps they have both lived peripatetic lives, Sweeney is from Donegal originally but has been resident in London, Berlin, Timişoara and now Cork whilst Williams lived in France, Africa and the former Yugoslavia before settling in Berlin in 1976. In this way both writers have managed to keep themselves at a remove from certain literary cliques allowing them to view such matters, and the rivalries that infiltrate them, from the outside looking in. The novel satirises the jealousy, envy and squabbles of a small artistic world that is uncomfortably familiar.

            The opening chapter of Death Comes for the Poets is an amusing set piece which begins with poet Fergus Diver recovering from a reading to “an audience of about twenty two comatose members of the Kent Marshes Poetry  Society”. His treat to himself, a meal in a decent Indian restaurant, does not however end happily and Diver becomes the first of the serial killer’s poetic victims. As each chapter goes by the death count gets higher and an unlikely detective duo arrive on the scene. Joe Biggs is a Londoner engaged as an assistant to the private investigator Victor Priest and Biggs meets up with the decidedly unglamorous Naily Dunbar who is initially drawn more to Biggs’ cans of beer than to the man himself. This not particularly dynamic duo become more and more involved in the case culminating in the almost obligatory chase across moonlit countryside.

            The spirit of this book is extremely refreshing. Poets often take themselves, and the murky literary world they inhabit, rather too seriously and it is enjoyable to see these fictional versions taken down a peg or two. The novelist John Banville has carved out another career for himself as the crime writer Benjamin Black and while Sweeney and Williams may not yet be taking themselves that seriously they have at least produced a witty page-turner of a book.

            The satirical edge of Death Comes for the Poets is further enhanced by the fake mini-anthology called “That’s Life!” which appears at the end of the novel. Here one can read the poems of the murdered fictional poets and hunt for the clues to their grisly deaths. Some of the poems here are funny but also worryingly familiar to regular readers of contemporary journals. Poetry readers will also recognise the spoofing of the very successful Bloodaxe anthologies which began with Staying Alive. Death Comes for the Poets is a welcome breath of fresh air gusting through a world too often infused with smug solemnity.


©2013 Matthew Geden



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