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Sympathetic Ink

Sympathetic Ink: Intertextual Relations in Northern Irish Poetry

Volume: 47
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Sympathetic Ink
    Book Description:

    Northern Irish poets have been accused of reticence in addressing political issues in their work. In Sympathetic Ink, Shane Alcobia-Murphy challenges this view through a consideration of the works of Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Medbh McGuckian. Making use of substantial collections of the poets’ papers which have only recently become available, Alcobia-Murphy focuses on the oblique, subtle strategies employed by these poets 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 re-examines existing attitudes towards Northern Irish poetry as well as being the first critical work to address the poetry of Medbh McGuckian.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-414-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    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’² 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 howpoiesisintersects 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? InTransitions, Richard Kearney uncovers an apparent transitional crisis at the core of modern Irish...

  6. Part I

    • 1 ‘As if he’s swallowed a dictionary’: The Oblique Poetry of Paul Muldoon
      (pp. 13-42)

      Although Paul Muldoon’s poetry is renowned for its erudition, allusiveness and formal precision, it is also notorious for being enigmatic and unforthcoming. A ‘Muldoonian’ poem is described thus: ‘confessional but reticent, lucid but ambiguous, idiomatic but classically formed, artless but supremely erudite, confident but self-effacing, approachable but unknowable’.² Two main strands of thought fuel the accusation that he is ‘simply’ a playful technician. First, some critics focus unduly on the Barthesian nature of his work whereby the author’s ashes rest peacefully in a well-wrought urn and authority (in every sense) passes on to the reader: ‘Far from placing writerly control...

    • 2 Medbh McGuckian: A Threader of Double-Stranded Words
      (pp. 43-92)

      The poetry of Medbh McGuckian has by no means received universal critical acclaim and many of her reviewers have been notoriously acerbic and personal in their attacks. Patrick Williams classifies her work as ‘colourful guff’: ‘McGuckian’s concoctions of endless poeticism are non-visionary, and the funny, sealed little worlds where harmless cranks parley with themselves in gobbledegook won’t impinge on the real world of loot and dragons.’¹ Such criticism of her work’s supposedly vexatious obliquity is not unusual: she is labelled fey and mannered,² whimsical,³ at best intricate and enigmatic, at worst inaccessible and subjective.⁴ Gerald Dawe complains that much of...

  7. Part II

    • 3 ‘Something a little nearer home’: The Intersection of Art and Politics
      (pp. 95-141)

      The fragmented, multivoiced complexity of much mainstream Irish poetry is often dismissed as fatally hermetic; what is allusive is elitist and insincere, a latter-day art for art’s sake. Iain Sinclair’s polemical introduction toConductors of Chaos, for example, makes the remarkable claim that in anthologies of Irish poetry, ‘[e]vent is adulterated by self-regarding tropes, false language’.¹ Especially vituperative in his description of Irish anthologists’ (and, by extension, Irish poets’) self-interested preoccupation with ‘[b]og and bomb and blarney’, he dismisses their work as ‘a heap of glittering similes burnished for westward transit’.² Although justified in voicing a general anxiety concerning the...

    • 4 Writing in the Shit: The Northern Irish Poet and Authority
      (pp. 142-175)

      This chapter examines the degree to which Northern Irish poets can establish an authorial presence in their texts and how authoritative they feel when, ‘mired in attachment’,¹ they write about politically sensitive issues. Since a quotation establishes a gap between the quoting text and what is quoted, its effect on the poet’s authoritative voice is ambiguous: even if a quotation is used as an embellishment, ‘a mere appendage to the main discourse’, it is also ‘paradoxically privileged, as it appears as a stylistic exemplum’.² Similarly, if the citation is used asauctoritas, then ‘the quoted text is privileged over the...

    • 5 ‘The eye that scanned it’: The Art of Looking in Northern Irish Poetry
      (pp. 176-217)

      A chapter based upon poets’ responses to works of art risks appearingpassé: from Horace’s ‘ut pictura poesis’ to J. D. McClatchy’sPoets on Painters¹ and beyond, the subject has been tackled extensively, if not exhaustively. In relation to Northern Irish poetry, Edna Longley’s impressive ‘No More Poems about Paintings?’² would seem the definitive account. However, this chapter not only corrects certain misconceptions and inaccuracies in Longley’s analysis, more importantly it offers a comparative study of ‘the gaze’ of both Paul Muldoon and Medbh McGuckian. Rather than presenting a study comparing the compositional and technical similarities of poetry and painting,...

    • 6 ‘Roaming root of multiple meanings’: Irish Language and Identity
      (pp. 218-243)

      When it comes to discussing ‘Irish identity’, critics are inclined to develop an acute sense of place, most notably an indeterminate space tentatively tucked in between inverted commas; indeed, the more seasoned hack will sigh in resignation at having to go and encounter for the millionth time the reality of ‘that will-o’-the-wisp which has caused the shedding of so much innocent ink’.¹ One influential writer, Peter McDonald, has recently objected to the intellectually stultifying manner in which identity politics is discussed within Irish studies. However, in his justifiable eagerness to expose the hidden agendas behind the systematic erection of constrictive...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 244-260)

    Throughout this monograph I have argued that for a comprehensive appreciation of Paul Muldoon and Medbh McGuckian’s poetry the reader must unearth labyrinthine networks of intertextual relations. While Muldoon’s intrusive literary allusions demand the reader’s attention, his poetry would remain opaque and open to the charge of pretentiousness if their functions and effects were not properly understood. The same is not true of McGuckian’s poetry: unaware of its true dialogism, the reader is likely to detect only disembodied voices. This work has not only introduced the reader to the capacious intellectual resources in which their poetry is grounded, it has...

  9. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 261-272)
  10. Index
    (pp. 273-276)