Ballyliffen poem on 11 plus

Ballyliffen poet Matthew Sweeney got a pleasant surprise last week when he learned that one of his poems, 'Cows on the Beach' was used for the main part of the English test on the 11plus exam in Northern Ireland.

Matthew, who is currently Poet in Residence at the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, told the 'Journal' how he first learnt of his poem's inclusion.

"My brother Paid was in the golf club in Ballyliffen and some teachers from Derry who were out for the day told him about it.

There was an anthology done in England recently by Walker Books and they asked the poets to talk about the writing of the poem, so I thought that possibly they had taken some questions from that. I'm glad they're putting in something contemporary because kids are more likely to get into poetry if it's written in their own language."

Matthew says he wrote 'Cows on the Beach' when "I was gathering momentum for the first of my children's books that Faber did,'The Flying Spring Onion' in 1992. I was home in Ballyliffen and I went down to Pollan Strand one day and it was empty except for two cows that had broken out of a field and were strolling down the beach.

"At the time, there was a big competition where people sent in unusual photos, so I went back to the house to get a camera. But I couldn't find one, so I wrote the poem instead.

Matthew, son of well known traditional music activist Clement Sweeney, who passed away in April, was raised in Inishowen. His poetry has been winning him more and more plaudits in recent years. In 2005, he was invited by the DAAD German Foreign Exchange Programme to be an artist in residence in Berlin, where has been based for the last few years.

"It's great, you're invited there just to write. It gives you a real feeling of confidence when people recognise you in this way. " he says of the honour.

He's also just finished a whirlwind tour to promote his new book, Black Moon, which has already been short-listed for the 2007 TS Eliot Prize. "I did thirty readings in two months, all over England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales."

The busy itinerary didn't include any dates in Northern Ireland, however.

Click here to read Matthew's poem.

In Cork for six weeks now, Matthew is mentoring three poets whose works are soon to be published. He also works with schoolchildren and offers weekly workshops at the Munster Literature Centre.

He's particularly excited at the prospect of working with a local filmmaker in Cork to bring his children's poems to life. "These poems are very visual, so I love the idea of making them into a film in some way."

When the Cork residency finishes, Matthew hopes to spend more time at homein Donegal. "I'll come up for a few months initially and will probably operate out of Donegal more and more, just going back to Berlin from time."