Race and Poetics and Poetry in the UK:
Legacies of Colonialism
Saturday 27th-Sunday 28th October 2018
University of Cambridge
Against the contemporary reality of Brexit and an openly racist and sexist US president, alongside draconian detention and deportation policies, anti-black and anti-Muslim violence in the UK and US, and the ongoing neglect of indigenous people’s dispossession, it is time to stop doing poetry and poetry studies as usual.
The work of Black British poets and thinkers has been crucial for more than half a century in linking the issues of race, ethics, and aesthetics. Recent events, projects, and publications centring writers of colour in the UK include Vahni Capildeo winning the Forward Prize, ‘decolonise the curriculum’ campaigns at various universities, Octavia Poetry Collective, the Ledbury scheme for emerging BAME critics, Out of Bounds anthology and the subsequent Beyond Bounds tour, The Good Immigrant anthology, Media Diversified news outlet, Gal-Dem magazine, Freed Verse: Diversity in British Poetry report, and Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry’s forthcoming issue on race. And yet, it is not unusual for poetry publications, scholarship, and academic conferences to remain quiet on the issue of race, especially racism. For example, while the relationship between ‘experimental’ or ‘difficult’ poetry and capitalism has been the subject of much compelling critical writing in the UK, little attention has been given to poetry’s relationship to race, racism, and the legacies of colonialism. White settler colonialism is a race-based system of capitalist exploitation and expropriation, and poetry is not simply an accessory to the system, it is an indispensable arm.
This conference is a follow up to the first ‘Race & Poetry & Poetics in the UK’ symposium that took place in London in February 2016. We call for the radical re-thinking of the ways in which poetry and poetics are conceived, analysed, and discussed in the UK, of the ways in which poetry and poetics are undergirded by legacies of colonialism in terms of racialized belief systems, practices, and sciences. We do not propose ameliorative and tokenizing ‘diversity’ practices, but a wholesale overturning and rethinking of ‘English-language’ ‘Anglo-American’ poetry and poetics from the foundations up, taking account of racial ideologies, which cannot be thought separately from class and gender. We aim to expose the liberal myths of multiculturalism, ‘colour-blindness’, and ‘post-racial society’, and to explore how the discourse of ‘diversity’ impedes frank discussions of racism in literary and academic contexts. This conference is about radical politics as much as it is about radical poetics.
How do we understand the promulgation of categories and false binaries in our thinking about poetry and poetics? What are the implicitly and explicitly racialized assumptions about terms such as ‘High Theory’, ‘avant-garde’, ‘experimental’, ‘lyric’, ‘spoken word’, ‘identity’, ‘universality’, ‘technique’, ‘rigour’, ‘autobiography’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ poetry?
What are the relationships between Black British poetry and theory, and avant-garde poetry and theory in the UK?
How do small and large press publishing and distribution practices reproduce and/or counter white coteries, exclusion, and racism (for example, New Beacon Books and Bogle-L’Ouverture have been critical in amplifying the work of poets of colour)?
What archival work has been done already and still needs to be done to recover and reframe the work of poets of colour in the UK?
How have cliques, coteries, and poetry communities worked to exclude (and to determine the conditions of inclusion for) poets of colour? How do these ‘gift economies’ work in positive and negative ways?
What does the discourse of ‘intersectionality’ enable and delimit in discussions of poetry and poetics? How have critics and activists utilised the term ‘intersectionality’ as a form of abstract theorising and value-signalling, occluding the specificities of race and racism, in relation to class, ableism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia, rather than serving to illuminate those specificities?
What is the tenability of categories such as ‘British’ or ‘Anglo-American’ when enlisted to the question of race and identity constituted and affected as they are by poetic traditions from around the world, which are often denied autonomy of self-intellection as well as a place in our teaching canons only because they are from outside metropolitan Europe and America?
How do ameliorative and tokenizing ‘diversity’ practices often hold us up from rethinking ‘English-language’ and ‘Anglo-American’ poetry from the foundations up, especially in the context of recent academic protests to decolonize?
How can eco-poetics take account of race?
How do poetry and poetics continue to serve colonialist ideals, institutions, and forms of violence?
Following the rise in popularity of eugenics in alt-right/neo-fascist contexts and in academic contexts (for example, the London Conference on Intelligence at UCL) how do we account for relationships between literary methodologies and eugenics (for example, English neurophysiologist Charles Sherrington’s influence on I.A. Richards’ Practical Criticism). How do we decolonise methodologies of close reading?
What are the possibilities of decolonised and/or anti-colonial Modernist and Postmodernist poetry and poetics? How might poets of colour be centered in discussions of formally innovative poetry, rather than serving as ethnographic decoration?
Why are translation and multilingual poetics markers of education, culture, and worldliness in the work of some poets, and markers of difference, segregation, and exoticism in other poets?
What is poetry’s role in social justice and movements against racism, imperialism, and white supremacy, if any?
We are interested in academic papers and panels, roundtable discussions, creative responses, and poetry readings and performances. We welcome scholars inside and outside the academy, poets, critics, teachers, librarians, publishers, editors, activists, students, and all others.
Please send 200-word proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday 1st July 2018.
The organising committee includes: Janani Ambikapathy, Mary Jean Chan, Amy De’Ath, James Goodwin, Edmund Hardy, Nat Raha, Nisha Ramayya, Sophie Seita, Sam Solomon, Siddharth Soni, Laurel Uziell, Dorothy Wang.