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1950s Literature

The main part of literture in the 1950s was navalists and poetry. Poetry is an art form in which human language is used for it's qualities. The forties and fifties were favourable times for poets and poetry, and lively communities of poets sprang up in the main centres. Debate about the nature of poetry led to some heated exchang.

THE GREAT DEBATE: Allen Curnow's anthology, A book of New Zealand verse 1945–55, provoked a reaction from emerging poets such as James K. Baxter, Louis Johnson and Kendrick Smithyman, who objected to what they saw as Curnow's insistence on a nationalist agenda for poetry. They argued that New Zealand poets, now secure in their identity, should express themselves on universal themes in an international context. A related viewpoint was that New Zealand poetry should move on from expressing alienation and isolation and develop a more confident vision of nationhood, inclusive of Maori. Underlying the positions was a tension between modernist and romantic approaches to poetry.

Image Hosted by James K. Baxter

The 1951 WRITERS' CONFERENCE: The debate was advanced by a passionate speech at the 1951 Writers Conference in Christchurch by James K. Baxter, who claimed pre-eminence for the Wellington group of poets, which included himself, Alistair Campbell, W.H. Oliver, Louis Johnson and Hubert Witheford. Sparring continued throughout the fifties.

PUBLISHING POETRY: Publication opportunities for poets were plentiful: the Year Book of the Arts in New Zealand series began in 1945, continuing until 1951 when it was succeeded by New Zealand Poetry Yearbook. The 1956 Anthology of New Zealand Verse, compiled by Robert Chapman and Jonathan Bennett, published many of the younger poets whom Curnow had overlooked in his 1945 anthology, including some new women poets, for instance Mary Stanley. However others such as Ruth France (who used the pen name Paul Henderson), found it difficult to make their voices heard in a male-dominated literary milieu.

In the literature of the 1950s and 1960s, a current emerged whereby the manner involved in coming to terms with recent history itself became a literary topic. In many of the works that appeared in West Germany at the time, criticism of the post-War “economic miracle” is combined with efforts to work through the National Socialist past. The focus on quickly establishing new affluence was often interpreted as a method of escaping responsibility for what had happened during the Third Reich. The plays and prose of the Swiss writers Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Max Frisch illustrate this. The most important works by German authors were by Wolfgang Koeppen (“The Greenhouse”, 1953), Heinrich Böll (“And Never Said a Word”, 1953, “The Bread of Those Early Years”, 1955, “Billards at Half-Past Nine”, 1959), Siegfried Lenz (“The German Lesson”, 1968) and Günter Grass (“The Tin Drum”, 1959, “Cat and Mouse”, 1961, “Dog Years”, 1963).

Other 1950s links

1950s home page
Infamous athletes of the 1950s
The korean war
Art of the 1950s
Music of the 1950s