Sympathetic Ink: Intertextual Relations in Northern Irish Poetry

Sympathetic Ink: Intertextual Relations in Northern Irish Poetry

Sympathetic Ink: Intertextual Relations in Northern Irish Poetry

Sympathetic Ink: Intertextual Relations in Northern Irish Poetry


Northern Irish poets have been notably reticent when addressing political issues in their work. In Sympathetic Ink, Shane Alcobia-Murphy traces that tendency through the works of Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, and Medbh McGuckian.

Using collections of the poets' papers made only recently available, Alcobia-Murphy focuses on the oblique, subtle strategies they apply to critique contemporary political issues. He employs the concept of sympathetic ink, or invisible ink, arguing that rather than avoiding politics, these poets have, via complex intertextual references and resonances, woven them deeply into the formal construction of their works.

Acute and learned, Sympathetic Ink will serve as a perfect introduction to these crucial figures of Irish poetry.


Every cultural narrative — be it a poem, play, painting, film, novel, or ideological manifesto —
is in some sense a reinterpretation of its own history, an attempt to retell a story of the past as
it relates to the present, an act of 'understanding otherwise' the motivating subworld of
symbols which informs our consciousness of the world. Narrative is where the text of the
imagination interweaves with the context of history.

In its terrible state o'chassis, does Northern Ireland's history interweave with or overwhelm the poetic imagination? When it comes to a 'chronic sovereignty neurosis' the cultural spin doctors are always ready with their diagnoses, but what about the creative writers? the dilemma involves not only the writer's perception of how poiesis intersects with politics, but also his or her relation to tradition(s), literary or otherwise: does he or she embrace the community with all its intimate biases or become a solitary figure, abstracted, seeking objectivity? in Transitions, Richard Kearney uncovers an apparent transitional crisis at the core of modern Irish cultural narratives and explores how they mediate between the images of the past and those of the future. of particular importance are what he terms 'postmodern' narratives, those which 'borrow freely from the idioms of both modernity and tradition, one moment endorsing a deconstruction of tradition, another reinventing the stories of the past transmitted by cultural memory.' There are, broadly speaking, two competing conceptions of postmodernism: one that is anti-referential, anarchic, decentred, revelling in endless simulation, resulting from the consumerisation of the image and the destructive logic of late capitalism; another which is referential and self-reflexive. the latter, to which Kearney subscribes, is the more constructive for writers and artists. As Hutcheon has put it, postmodernism is 'where documentary historical actuality meets formalist self-reflexivity and parody'; it is 'an exploration of the way in which narratives and images structure how we see ourselves and how we construct our notion of self, in the present and in the past.'

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