Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, associate professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross, recently released a chapbook of poetry, ‘Hand Me Down,’ which was published by Finishing Line Press in June. Sweeney, who has published writing in journals in magazines such as the Worcester Review, Diner, and Friends Journal, and who has written many critical essays on authors Vladimir Nabokov and Edgar Allan Poe, has released ‘Hand Me Down’ to much acclaim.
Describing the collection as concerning “the tangible items that are left behind after someone dies”—thus the book’s namesake—Sweeney explains that she attempts to focus on small items of life, that are in turn reflections. She says, “In my poems, I try to pay attention to these humble objects—a bookmark, a matchbook full of matches that were never struck, a doll without any shoes—and the emotions they carry.”
Overall, with the release of ‘Hand Me Down’ in mind, Sweeney speaks to the importance of poetry in our lives, saying, “I believe the arts are for everyone.” Then, commenting on the universal nature of the poem, she remarks, “Everyone has written at least one poem in their lives, even if it was in response to a teacher’s assignment in third grade…Poetry speaks to a very deep longing to express our most profound feelings and thoughts in words.”
Though just published, Sweeney’s collection has already met widespread praise. Of Sweeney’s work, Mary Jo Salter, author of ‘A Phone Call to the Future: New and Selected Poems,’ has said, “Here is a poet to read and re-read; here is a poet whose work to come can only be eagerly awaited.” Elsewhere, Robert Cording, Holy Cross’ own James N. and Sarah L. O’Reilly Barrett Professor in Creative Writing, says, “Her skill, both in and out of form, her deferential wit, and a wildness that is touchingly wedded to propriety, transform those melancholy hurts that lie at the center of our existence into story and art.”
Former president of the Worcester Country Poetry Association, Sweeney has received numerous awards, including an American Academy of Poets Prize and the Frank O’Hara Poetry Prize. Originally from Baltimore, MD, she attended Mount Holyoke College, and later earned her MFA in poetry and a PhD in American literature from Brown University. Currently, she lives in Worcester, MA, with her husband and two dogs.