International colloquium brings controversial poetry to the fore

30 Sep 2014 - 12:15

Pictured left: Professor Sam Tlhalo Raditlhalo (UNISA) with A/Professor Harry Garuba (UCT, African Studies Department) at the Saturday session of Craft Wars


An international colloquium titled Craft Wars was held at the University of Cape Town from the 18-20 September, 2014. Hosted by the university’s Department of English Language and Literature in collaboration with the Centre for Open Learning and Crafts of World Literature Collective and co-convened by Ben Etherington of the University of Western Sydney and Zarad Zimbler of Birmingham University, the two-day programme consisted of lectures, selected poetry readings and panel discussions on the 40th anniversary of a controversial poetry meeting known as Poetry ’74.

Poetry ’74, was a conference held at the Centre of Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Cape Town forty years ago. This was a gathering that attracted a diverse mix of local poets and critics and it sparked huge debate and discussion around South African literature. One of the key aspects of this first meeting was that it stimulated new perspectives on the purpose and politics of poetry. Following an evening keynote address by Marlene van Niekerk and readings of Jamaican poet laureate Mervyn Morris along with Rustum KozaIn and Yvette Christianse at Wrensch House in Observatory with the support of the Pirogue Collective, Craft Wars 2014 was hosted on upper and middle campus and brought together well-known scholars and poets from across South Africa, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and the USA to discuss poetry produced within the context of colonialism and de-colonisation.  In addition to commemorating the 1974 event, Craft Wars sought to reflect on the challenges and prospects of postcolonial poetry in South Africa, Australia, India and the Caribbean.  Meg Samuelson, Head of the Department of English, says that “it was particularly meaningful for the department to be involved in this roving world initiative at a time in which many of us are locating our research and teaching in relation to world literary debates, in the global south, along particular corridors of connection or at various comparative interfaces while at the same time seeking to attend to the specific textures of locality.”

This year’s colloquium was open to members of the public, staff and students, free of charge. Distinguished guest speakers included Laurence Breiner, Yvette Christianse ,Victoria Collis-Buthelezi, Imraan Coovadia, Finuala Dowling, Ben Etherington, Harry Garuba, Ronalda Kamfer, Nunke Khadimo, Ingrid de Kok, Rustum Kozain, Antjie Krog, Charne Lavery, Peter D. McDonald, Tony Morphet, Mervyn Morris,  Marlene van Niekerk, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Donald Parenzee, Karen Press, Tlhalo Raditlhalo, Gig Ryan, Kelwyn Sole, Nathan Trantaal, Hedley Twidle, Tony Voss and Jarad Zimbler. The mixture of poets, scholars and poet-scholars was enriching, says Samuelson, because it brought together the academic and creative streams in the department:  “Too often, these streams run parallel to another one; this event presented a rare opportunity for us to think our craft at the point of their confluence”.