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Review: King of a Rainy Country, by Matthew Sweeney

[...] King of a Rainy Country arrives as 'something completely different'. It is ostensibly a series of short pieces of writing, rather like diary entries, that recall in detail a month's visit to Paris. Almost a travel book, it is lifted from that genre by Sweeney's poetic prose and beautifully modulated poetic diction...

[...] Sweeney has produced here fifty short prose pieces, diary entries, and bits of flash fiction - each describing the events he witnessed and banlieues visits he made in his month in that city in 2016. They are a tribute to Baudelaire and, for the first time in his work, an otherwise elusive poet speaks directly to his readers without recourse to metaphorical camouflage or to any surreal tendency. It is as though Sweeney for the first time is unguarded and natural in this new (and securely imitative) form.

Although Sweeney writes with exemplary clarity, he does allow his 'green pen' plenty of flourishes, and so each short piece becomes a well-told and colourful story that might befit any legendary Donegal seanchaí. He does not seek out the bizarre, but it does often find him. It is as if he were an innocent bystander and witness to some 'mad' events.

[...] One of the more amusing anecdotes (or diary entries, or petits poèmes en prose) is of a visit to the Cimetière du Montparnasse in search of Baudelaire's grave. On the way he visits the resting place of Samuel Becket and remembers a previous pilgrimage:

As I was here, I decided also to pay homage to Becket. I'd once found his grave before and left a note on it - Godot here, where the fuck are you?

[...] Each of these fifty short imagist narratives are beguiling and amusing and they cover many banlieues in daylight while reeking of late-night fumes from wine bars and brasseries that intimate Baudelaire. It is a kind of intended interlude between more conventional collections. Sadly, it became his last publication for Sweeney died at 65 from motor neurone disease, just before publication of this book, the historic irony being that Baudelaire also died just before publication of Paris Spleen.