Jarad Zimbler: Guy Butler Reconsidered

Poetics and Poetry in the South African Literary Field

In the aftermath of his confrontation with Mike Kirkwood at Poetry ’74, a conference hosted by the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies at UCT, Guy Butler seems to have diminished in stature from year to year. Yet he remains, amongst the cohort of South African English language poets, the most dedicated to critical reflection on the challenges and demands posed by local materials. If his positions were rejected out of hand in the heat of the mid 70s, what is their status today? Do they have any relevance to contemporary South African poetry? Do they help us in any way to understand the achievements and failures of the local poetry scene after apartheid? For that matter, do they help even to make sense of the achievements and failures of Butler’s verse, and that of his generation? These are the questions that I will address in my paper, which will therefore consist of an account of Butler’s literary critical output, his role in the formation of the South African literary field, readings of several of his own poems, and reflections on local poetry published in recent years.

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