Craft Wars: Poetics, Decolonisation, and Contested Hegemony

Room 104 - Arts Building
Tuesday 10 May 2022 (16:30-17:45)

Hosted by the Institute of Advanced Studies

Please note that this event is also availble via Zoom (registration required)

Amidst the global sweep of movements of decolonisation in the 1960s and 70s, a number of intense local struggles over the techniques and forms of poetic expression erupted. These ‘craft wars’ were not concerned merely with how best to write poetry but with the very legitimacy of the antagonists’ understandings of what should count as poetry. Behind the aesthetic position-taking was a broader ‘war of position’ against the persistence of colonial hegemony or ‘neo-colonialism’. These ‘craft wars’ are therefore central to how we conceive the role of verbal arts in decolonisation, and to what it means to decolonise verbal arts. This joint lecture will begin with a theoretical overview of the cultural logic of decolonising craft wars before looking at two canonical cases. The first took place in the West Indies and was sparked by the publication of an anthology edited by Edward Brathwaite in the literary magazine Savacou which mixed established poets with emerging performance-oriented poets. The second broke out in South Africa at the conference Poetry ’74, when Black poets withdrew and Guy Butler, a key figure of local Anglophone literature, was accused of perpetuating a colonial mind-set in his poetry, in his criticism, and in his liberalism.

  • Ben Etherington is Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University and the former president of the Australian Association for Caribbean Studies. His current project, which is supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council grant, is on the poetics of Anglophone Caribbean Creole verse in the period between the abolition of slavery and decolonisation. He is also collaborating with the Jamaican-Australian novelist Sienna Brown on a series of podcast documentaries on the history of Caribbean people in Australia. The first, Caribbean Convicts in Australia, was broadcast by ABC Radio National in 2021. Recent publications include the Literary Primitivism (Stanford UP, 2018), and an essay on Louise Bennett and the decolonisation of civic verse in Caribbean Literature in Transition, Vol. 2: 1920s-1970s (Cambridge UP, 2021).

Culture and collections

Schools, institutes and departments

Services and facilities