Craft Wars: Comparative Perspectives on Poetry ’74 (Cape Town: September 18-20, 2014)

Poetry ’74, a conference held at the Centre of Extra-Mural Studies at UCT, sparked a conflagration in South African literature, by gathering into a combustible mix different generations of local poets and critics, and different views about the purpose and politics of verse. Forty years on, our colloquium will revisit this moment, assessing its lasting effects, whilst giving a perspective on similar ‘versicides’ occurring elsewhere in the anglophone literary world at much the same time, programmes of aesthetic contestation dynamized by forthright reckonings with the colonial legacy: in Australia, poets breaking with the nationalist paradigms of the previous generation polarized into parochial and cosmopolitan camps; in the Caribbean, the publication in 1970 of Savacou 3/4, a divisive anthology of contemporary verse, brought into the open regional antagonisms centred on poetic craft and oral poetry. Craft Wars presents an opportunity to think broadly about the ways in which such contests reshape horizons of expressive possibility, and to develop a comparative critical framework that recognizes the importance of literary practice, local materials, and the role of institutions in structuring regional literatures.

Workshop Statement

Poetry ’74, a conference held at the Centre of Extra-Mural Studies at UCT, sparked a conflagration in South African literature, by gathering into a combustible mix different generations of local poets and critics, and different views about the purpose and politics of verse. Forty years on, our colloquium will revisit this moment, assessing its lasting effects, whilst giving a perspective on similar ‘versicides’ occurring elsewhere in the anglophone literary world at much the same time, programmes of aesthetic contestation dynamized by forthright reckonings with the colonial legacy: in Australia, poets breaking with the nationalist paradigms of the previous generation polarized into parochial and cosmopolitan camps; in the Caribbean, the publication in 1970 of Savacou 3/4, a divisive anthology of contemporary verse, brought into the open regional antagonisms centred on poetic craft and oral poetry. Craft Wars presents an opportunity to think broadly about the ways in which such contests reshape horizons of expressive possibility, and to develop a comparative critical framework that recognizes the importance of literary practice, local materials, and the role of institutions in structuring regional literatures.

The last of these factors is especially relevant: institutions such as the Centre of Extra-Mural Studies are so often crucial to the emergence of new literatures. A similar focus on institutions has characterized two previous conferences, Crafts of World Literature (University of Oxford, September 2012) and Poetic Craft and White Settler Colonialism (University of Western Sydney, September 2013), as has the emphasis on literary practice, and on the importance of attending to the particularities of different regional literary fields. At the first of these events, participants responded with papers on a range of periods, genres and regions, a selection of which will be published as a special issue of Journal of Commonwealth Literature. The second event was a workshop for invited speakers, addressing poetry in South Africa and Australia, and involving both makers and critics of verse (a proposal for a special issue has been accepted by Wasafiri). For Craft Wars, we propose something similar: a series of public readings and talks, as well as a colloquium at which invited speakers might consider the histories, challenges and prospects of postcolonial poetry and poetics, with a specific focus on South Africa, Australia and the Caribbean. We would seek to publish selected papers either in a journal special issue, or as a volume with an appropriate university press.

The broader aim of the Crafts of World Literature project has been to reorient postcolonial literary studies in the direction of literary technique, not in the name of any new formalism, but because we believe that technique is the way art thinks, and so is the particular means by which it confronts us with the truths of our world. Fundamental to both previous events, as it would be here, is the related belief that the artist’s materials are always local, or at least located, but that a comparison of regional fields emerging in the wake of decolonization helps to identify the forces shaping them. Indeed, these events have been most interesting when homologies between literary communities have suddenly appeared, revealing broader world-systemic pressures and structures without needing either to foreground transnational connections, or to ignore the very real national concerns that often set the parameters for aesthetic disputation. As for our focus on poetry, this is easily explained: though it was so often found at the heart of early debates about the purpose, place and outline of new literatures, poetry has been marginalized by postcolonial literary criticism, which, focusing relentlessly on representation and narrative, has privileged the novel as primary object of investigation. This has hardly kept poets from writing, but the conversations with critics outside national parameters and institutions have barely begun, to the detriment of readers but also makers of verse. In this too, Craft Wars presents an opportunity.

Workshop Programme

Sessions and poetry readings of the colloquium are open to all, without registration or entrance fee, except for Thursday’s opening event at Wrensch House, which, due to space restrictions, is by invitation only.

 

Thursday 18 September

Wrensch House (due to space restrictions, by invitation only)

 

17.00 – 17.30 Welcome  
17.30 – 18.45 Session I: Plenary Address 1
18.45 – 19.00 Drinks  
19.00 – 20.30 Poetry Reading 1
20.00 – Dinner

 

Friday 19 September

Arts Block, Upper Campus, UCT: Room A116 (Sessions I-IV)

Kramer Building, Middle Campus, UCT: Room LT3 (Poetry Reading)

 

  9.00 – 9.30 Registration and Welcome
 9.30 – 11.45 Session II: Poetry ’74 and its Aftermaths
11.45 – 13.00 Lunch 
13.00 – 15.00 Session III: Caribbean Poetry 
15.00 – 15.30 Tea
15.30 – 17.00 Session IV: Plenary Address 2
18.00 – 20.00 Poetry Reading 2 

 

Saturday 20 September

Kramer Building, Middle Campus, UCT: Room LT3

 

  9.00 – 9.30 Registration
 9.30 – 11.30 Session V: South African Poetry Today
11.30 – 12.45 Lunch
12.45 – 14.45 Session VI: Australian Poetry
14.45 – 15.15 Tea
15.15 – 17.15 Session VII: Indian Poetry in English 
17.45 – 20.00 Poetry Reading 3

Dowload the Craft Wars programme

 

Craft Wars Poster We are grateful to the following for sponsoring and supporting this event: 

University of Western Sydney, University of Cape Town, ZAPP (South African Poetry Project), Spier, Pirogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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