Ornithology as intertextuality: A guide to Max Porter’s birds (and where to find them)

David Rudrum, James Underwood

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Porter’s works tend to hint at an extremely eclectic range of influences, both in terms of real-life events (as in the biographical aspects of The Death of Francis Bacon) and in terms of their rich layers of intertextuality. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is, perhaps, the most complex of Porter’s works to date in terms of its relationship to its source material. Grief is clearly rooted in intertextual homage to Ted Hughes’s poetry. Yet it invokes Hughes in ways that owe as much to the biographical as they do the poetic. Grief also has less obvious intertextual relations to Julian Barnes’s novel Flaubert’s Parrot, which blurs the lines between biography and fiction. Furthermore, the title alludes openly to Emily Dickinson, and the presence of a talking crow commenting on the tragic and premature death of a woman recalls Poe. Borrowing the concept of “jizz” from amateur birdwatchers - and using this term strictly in its ornithological sense - this chapter will show that Porter’s intertextual relationships with Hughes’s crow, Barnes’s parrot, Dickinson’s hummingbird, and Poe’s raven all shed light on the different genres in which Grief Is the Thing with Feathers participates, and help to account for the ways in which it defies labelling as any particular genre.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Perspectives on Max Porter
EditorsDavid Rudrum, Pawel Wojtas, Wojciech Drag
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781032662374
ISBN (Print)9781032662367
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2024

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