My partner Rony Robinson and I hosted an event at Cwmdonkin Drive this Summer – Dylan Thomas’s childhood home in Swansea. It was billed as a sort of Yorkshire nod to Dylan. We were allowed to sleep in the front bedroom and to make our own boiled breakfast eggs in Mrs Thomas’s kitchen. Later we went to the Boat House and his writing shed in Laugharne, where spookily the waiter in the cafe looked like the young Dylan in this painting by Augustus John. He said visitors often told him that.
As teenagers, like many writers, we fell in love with Dylan, but even though the world’s gone Dylan-mad for his hundredth birthday, it can be a bit embarrassing to say you like him now. He’s not fashionable and in general, not really revered by poets – the gist of the criticism being too much style, too much floridity over substance. And who did he influence?
Seamus Heaney said in The Redress of Poetry that he was ‘as much a case history as a chapter in the history of poetry.’ I had to turn off yet another television drama about his death in America recently. He probably was a pain in the neck and there’s no doubt that the boozing was legendary but its still such a shame that the life – and sometimes the myth – takes precedence over the writing.
But oh, the energy, the play, the naughtiness, the humanity (despite his real life casual cruelty), the sexiness, the structure, the poetics, the spirituality of his work! I’m still a bit in love with Dylan, the sound of him and his love of sound, the thing-ness of words. Under Milk Wood, his ‘play for voices’ is described, again by Heaney, as ‘an idyllic romp, as if The Joy of Sex were dreamt under the canvas at a Welsh eisteddfod.’ Exactly.
Rony Robinson and I are hosting two more events to celebrate Dylan’s birthday – one on the actual day, 27th October, called Happy Birthday Dylan Thomas at Totley Library in Sheffield the other on 1st November for the marvellous Off the Shelf Festival in Sheffield in, appropriately enough, a pub. (The latter is part of a day long Dawn to Dusk series of events including Welsh Poet Laureate Gillian Clarke). At both of our events we’ll be reading and singing some of our own Yorkshire stuff that references Dylan as well as reading from the Birthday Boy himself. There’ll be songs, stories, poems, seaside trips that never get there, October winds (especially) birds palavering, Mrs Dai Bread showing off, meetings in Tesco, forever Christmases, sex and rudeness, love in old age… Impromptu Under Milk Wood anyone?