Friday, March 1, 2013

Sweeney in New York

One of my favorite figures from myth is poor mad Sweeney, who angered a priest, and got cursed into being a bird.

You know, like this:

"My curse fall on Sweeney
for his great offence.
His smooth spear profaned
my bell's holiness,

cracked bell hoarding grace
since the first saint rang it - 
it will curse you to the trees,
bird-brain among the branches."

Seamus Heaney, from "Sweeney Astray." (Sadly hard to find in the States, worth whatever you have to pay to get a copy.)

Or maybe you recognize him here:

"The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the horned gate."

T.S. Eliot, from "Sweeney Among the Nightingales"

Buile Suibhne, or The Madness of Sweeney, is a terrific story, a national epic, like Beowulf. I love all the pieces of it.

And so I wrote a story, about poor Mad Sweeney, and took him across the sea to America, to New York City. It's called "Painted Birds and Shivered Bones," and it is out today, in the Spring issue of Subterranean. Thank you to Bill, for asking me to try my hand at writing something longer, to Geralyn, who knitted me the Scarf of Encouragement, to Birdy, whose cover of "Terrible Love" I listened to on constant repeat while writing this. Thank you to my beta readers, and to my excellent agent Joe, who took me for soup dumplings once I had sold this. Thank you to Seamus Heaney, who first introduced me to Sweeney, and to Neil Gaiman, who was the reason my students had any clue at all who Sweeney was when I taught the poem.

I hope you like it.


  1. "I"

    Very satisfying.

  2. Me too. Those floating heads made me feel like in a Myiazaki movie.

    Also, you once again created very relatable characters (who fly around each other like birds!). And I loved the way you used the colors, from the very beginning to the very end.