Sally Goldsmith

poet and songmaker

Thomas the Birthday Boy


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?


To clap or not to clap…

Now folks, today’s question is – should we clap at poetry readings?

I’ve just launched my poetry collection at three very different  venues and also been a punter at the smallest poetry festival in the world.  At the first launch event, a huge affair with Ian McMillan but attended by lots of poets and academics,  people laughed but didn’t clap – apart from when I sang a rude song. At the second, a small affair in the back room of a pub in Huddersfield, again people only clapped at the end of a song – but they were all poets apart from two friends – one a musician who was astounded that the convention was that people didn’t clap. “That must be very hard” he said.  At a lively launch in the library on our road – attended by lots of people who don’t normally go to poetry events – people clapped everything. It was great. At the tiny festival in Litton, encouraged i think by John Hegley, who is also of course a musician, people also clapped everything.

But the convention is , isn’t it, that at serious poetry events people don’t clap? I LOVE being clapped – but then I did come at poetry from being a singer/songwriter.

Why don’t we? Isn’t it good to show appreciation? Is it all so holy that we shouldn’t?

Dorothy Wordsworth, Amy Clampitt and my mum

Dorothy-1 I am dedicating my first collection, which is published and launched tomorrow, to the memory of my mother.  She may not have been the best reader of poetry but being so intimate with me,  she often understood exactly what had set a poem off – “That’s that cupboard” she’d say or “I always loved the sound of those larches.”

When she heard that I was a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2008, she said “Oooh, you’ll be famous!” I told her that poets are hardly ever famous to which she answered “What about that man who walked  lot?” She meant Wordsworth. Such is the faith and love of mothers.

I have never really been able to get on with Wordsworth. Dorothy – yes. I love all that day to day stuff in her journals about William’s piles and their bad teeth. And here she is with her little dog, all frilly bonnet, plain face – and writing of course. She walked a lot too. Not famous though apart from being his devoted sister and probably too much in love with him.

And that brings me onto older women writers generally. Amy Clampitt –  who I adore – didn’t publish her first collection till about my age. And the MA course at Hallam was full of 50 something women who were at last doing something for themselves, not children or partners. When I was involved in writing poetry for a character in a radio play – who like me was menopausal and wrote poetry – one BBC producer said of the character “Of course, Heather is a UFF  – an Unpublished Female in her Fifties.” I thought – that’s it, that’s what they think of us, how they discount us.

Well, I am not ambitious except in my desire to get better at what I do. I do not bear any grudges to young writers who should and ought to be championed. But I have a small wish that older women who are new writers had a bit more respect, were just that bit more visible.

But for the moment, I am so happy and a little scared about the launch of my book tomorrow. And grateful to all those who have helped me.  A lot of my friends will be there – poets yes, but also neighbours, community activists – many of whom know sod all about poetry. They will clap and rejoice with me. It feels like a huge achievement.  Bugger being famous!


heartThis old scientific image of a heart is pinned next to my desk. I love the colours, the exactness, the typeface. Tracey Holland’s image  used for the cover of my new collection, Are We There Yet? has an image of a real heart (you ought to see her freezer!) Obviously I love that image too –  it spoke to me as something I could use, link to my collection. But what is it about the heart? We worry about it – my Dad died of a heart attack, so many of us take pills for it – but it’s also supposedly the seat of love. Grief, I find, can make it physically ache. But sometimes, somehow, I am also aware of it reaching out, even having a colour – an unexpected feeling I had when writing my poem Pink. What is it about the heart? Hackneyed image? Powerful symbol?

New collection, new website

thereyet-forweb.lowerresNew website. And OK –  it’s a WordPress adapted thing but I’m very proud that I’ve finally managed it. Almost as proud as I am of publishing my first full collection and of all those people who helped me get here, especially the marvellous Sansoms. (There should be a collective noun for them. A splendour of Sansoms.) Well, thanks to every last one of you – you know who you are. And to my lovely Rony for the biggest gift – making every day a chance to play and muck about with words.

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