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Review: King of a Rainy Country, by Matthew Sweeney


The title (and epigraph) of King of a Rainy Country allude to no. LXXVII of Les Fleurs du Mal: "Je suis comme la roi de pays pluvieux, / Riche, mais impuissant, jeune et pourtant très vieux" ("I am like the king of a rainy land, / Wealthy but powerless, both young and very old" as translated by William Aggeler). Baudelaire's king is a "cruel malade", his ornate bed of fleur de lys, a grave. Sweeney's borrowing may suggest the context of his own diagnosis of terminal illness. The work itself, though, is fresh and exuberant.
Baudelaire is not apolitical, and, in his 1869 collection, Le Spleen de Paris, he responds with compassion to the poverty he sees. But it is his own exquisitely receptive and exposed consciousness that is always his real subject. Sweeney is less of an egoist, more politically aware and entirely free of the obsessive amours and hatreds Baudelaire sometimes unleashes on women. His persona is more of a quirky, friendly, anecdote-happy journalist or foreign correspondent; his poems-in-prose little essays which are sensuous, energetic and exhilarated, full of the pleasures of eating, drinking, food-shopping, story-telling and simple, keen-eyed looking.