Intertextuality

Intertextuality

Wednesday Workshop
25 August 2021

            This is another academic word that has a simple meaning. In essence, it means texts talking to texts. Quevedo (1580-1645) writes escucho con mis ojos a los muertos’ / ‘I listen with my eyes to dead men.’ He is suggesting that, each time we read a text written by another person we enter into a dialog with that text and that author. His metaphoric conversations with the writings of the long-dead Seneca become intertextual the moment he put pen to paper and wrote about them.

This intertextuality is a key component of my writing.  You may not recognize all the phrases that I have used previously by other writers. I do. Some other readers will. Just take, as an example, the titles of some of my earlier books. The title of Broken Ghosts (Goose Lane, 1986) comes from these lines penned by the Swansea poet, Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). ‘Light breaks where no sun shines; / where no sea runs, the waters of the heart / push in their tides; and, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads, the things of light / file through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.” Stars at Elbow and Foot, the title of my Selected Poems (Cyberwit.net, 2021) was also inspired by one of Dylan Thomas’s poems. “And death shall have no dominion. Dead men naked they shall be one with the man in the wind and the west moon; when their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone, they shall have stars at elbow and foot.” The title of Though Lovers Be Lost (Kindle, 2016) also comes from this same poem, one of my favorites, obviously.

Sometimes readers are aware of these intertextual clues that I sow throughout my poems. Sometimes not. It doesn’t matter. There is a resonance in such chosen words and that resonance is there, irrespective of whether you are aware of the word-source or not. That said, the recognition and acknowledgement of intertextual relationships expands the poetic meanings of the creative world even further. It also establishes verbal links between author and author, epoch and epoch, genre and genre, thus establishing a wider intertextual network and a stronger chain of linked literary thoughts and meanings. In our creative journeys, we rarely walk alone, whether we are aware of it, or not.

The art of writing poetry about paintings is known as ekphrasis – which basically just means a verbal description of a visual work of art, whether it’s real or imaginary. The conversion of the visible (painting) to the printed page (verbal) is another link in the great chain of intertextuality, for paintings, too, are narratives with a different form of text. Other component parts are audible to verbal (alliteration, onomatopoeia), touch and feel (tactile) to verbal (as in synesthesia or the mixing of the senses) and the transfer of taste to verbal forms. Many of these transitions and transformations are present, not only in my own poetry, but in surrealism (verbal and visual) as well.

On Re-reading Quevedo’s Poetry

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On Re-reading Quevedo’s Poetry

Was that where my life went,
a spent candle trailing dark studies
among the packed lines of your poems?

And you, was your life gutted by that
same guttering candle by whose light you
scrawled your tight black spider rhymes?

Were they all meaningless, your insights
and my words? So few now know who
you were and what you represented
and I, your scholar, a mere shadow of your
shadow struggling in the straggling
light of a far-off continent, far from content
at knowing so much about you. Intent
I was on spreading light and the word
to a world that thinks the two of us absurd.

Our world is spinning on its edge, placed
on the perimeter of space, and going nowhere.
Specks of dust we sit and contemplate
the vastness of what exactly: our fortunes,
our spirits, our houses, our power, our lands?
Out there, in the vastness that surrounds us,
worlds without end will never know we existed.

Bleak and blank our names, our deeds, our status,
the statues they raise in our praise. And what of
our thoughts, those sparks of electricity
that link us lip to ear and mind to action
and each of our actions transformed by a dance
performed by circling planets that shape our wills?

Who programs that universe now? Who plays
what trivial games of snakes and ladders
in which we are the dots and dashes, pinballs
among a million trillion strings of flashing lights?