‘We Listen for What the Waves Intone’: Intertextuality and the Circum-Atlantic Poetics of Seamus Heaney, Natasha Trethewey and Kwame Dawes

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This article argues that the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Natasha Trethewey and Kwame Dawes constructs the Atlantic space as an oceanic intertext. Utilising Joseph Roach’s notion of the circum-Atlantic, this article examines how Trethewey’s and Dawes’ intertextual engagement with Heaney highlights how the Atlantic rim retains ‘a memory imperfectly deferred’. Through tracing connections between the work of Heaney, Dawes and Trethewey it becomes apparent that, in addition to thematic preoccupations with the legacy of imperial racisms and colonial displacement, the writers share a similar set of motifs. These poets fashion watery interstices at the margins of the Atlantic – coastlines, bogs and flooded islands – as intercultural lieux de mémoire, resonant with memory and haunted by an intertextual poetics that evokes the chorus of ‘water-lost’ Atlantic voices. This article suggests that, although the Atlantic is fashioned as an agent of disconnection, violence and liminality, it also functions as a reminder of the deep time that joins the Atlantic regions and its archipelagos, with its layers of multiple temporalities and storied pasts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-108
JournalComparative American Studies An International Journal
Early online date01 Nov 2016
Publication statusEarly online date - 01 Nov 2016


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