Dylan Thomas

Posted 4 Jun 2014

in Featured

Dazzling Dylan: Celebrating the Dylan Thomas Centenary (more…)

Most people have heard of him. The infamous Dylan Thomas. Archetypal Bohemian poet. Booze – and yet more booze. Philandering and fame. The tempestuous marriage. Sponging and scenes. Rudeness, cruelty, drama and charisma. And finally – still prickling with conflicting theories – the whisky-sodden, probably medically negligent, morphine-injected early death of a Welsh son in New York.

But like Sylvia Plath, it can seem – as stories bloom into legends, a few vivid vignettes simplify and stick – and of course, as the parasitic fascination surrounding premature artistic death still feasts gluttonously on such tragedy – that the life, reduced to crude lines and hasty colourful brushstrokes so garish they lack any of the subtlety of real life – can overshadow the poet. Their incredible work. Like Plath, Thomas can seem haunted by himself.

I am one of those who tremble at the sound of Dylan Thomas. I say ‘sound’, whether that be the rumbling, soaring, musical, thundering, spoken-out-loud sort which storms the ears; or the mellifluous, rattling, clacking, visceral sound of the poems in the eyes and brain which make a beeline to the spine and heart. Cacophonously complex or hypnotically lyrical, with curious sprung rhythm and internal rhyme, mesmerising like a weird snakecharmer… Honestly, I get chills.

Thomas is not, and has not always been, universally popular, however; some key poets of the 1940s, and particularly the 1950s, heavily criticised his work – as did several critics and academics; something the likes of Robert Lowell found astonishing. And there is still debate. Though paradoxically, being ‘popular’ is one of Thomas’s problems. It’s as if the immediately powerful effect of his poems, the memorable lines and enduring clutch of famous poems; the fact people know his name, the cartoon of his life, means Thomas is somehow too ‘easy’ for the truly serious poetry aficionado – like enjoying a bacon sandwich rather than a blue steak. His verbal exuberance, heady, near word-intoxication, acute musicality, and, at times, difficult metaphysical extravagance is also poked at; as if this astounding gift and overt passion is somehow somewhat embarrassing or ‘unfashionable’. A certain  austerity of expression and chilliness of soul being more appropriate and dignified – even if, as often happens these days, this is combined with self importance and self-centredness – a non-universal yawnsworthy focus on the self and personal life minutiae: like being caught by a bore at a party who happens to speak in short choppy lines.

This year marks the centenary of Thomas’s birth and it is wonderful to see a humongous celebration and appreciation of all things DT – a major, spectacular poet – kicking off. ‘Dylan Thomas 100’ (http://www.dylanthomas100.org) is a fantastic feast of events – with the avowed intention of focusing on his actual poetry. Stretching from all around Thomas’s native Wales to an international programme – ‘Starless and Bible-Black’ – in Canada, Argentina, Australia, India and America, the plethora of events includes literary evenings and walks; music, theatre, art and opera; readings – including a 36 hour ‘Dylathon’ at Swansea Grand Theatre with more than 100 participants of the calibre of Sir Derek Jacobi, Sian Phillips and Rowan Williams performing alongside community groups and schools; academic debates, performances and film-making; workshops, lectures, tours and exhibitions; comedy, competitions and commissions. You can even spend the night in Dylan’s old bedroom, complete with cigarette stubs and scattered poetry scribbles!  Further major actors such as Michael Sheen; musicians, poets, royals and comedians, sprinkle the centenary year with starshine. Truly an explosive but prolonged celebration. But whatever you do, wherever you are, take some simple reading time to appreciate that the world welcomed in Dylan Thomas and his incredible poetic gift 100 years ago, and to savour his unique, peculiar, glorious style.

By Gillian K Ferguson

http://dylanthomas100.org/; full guide to all the 100 year centenary celebrations, detailed info and downloadable programme, plus new app.

dylanthomas.com – a festival of events at the Dylan Thomas Centre and elsewhere in Thomas’s native Swansea; including an exhibition of four of his poetry notebooks and the Red Prose Notebook written between 1930 and 1934. They return to Swansea for the first time since being sold in the 1940s.

dt100.info – centenary site

#DylanThomas2014 – stay in touch with all things DT.

5cwmdonkindrive.com; visitswanseabay.com  – explore the young poet’s haunts – and even stay in Dylan’s bedroom! (Presumably absorption of poetic genius by osmosis not guaranteed…)

by The PoetryZoo Keeper