All 3 entries tagged Dylan Thomas

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June 01, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Music —– May/June 2011.

Writing about web page http://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork

At a recent event at Penn State, poet Robin Becker opened her reading by noting that poetry had its origins in song, and she quoted the Pennsylvania poet J.D. McClatchy who says: “All arts want to have their birth in music”. Poetry and song do seem to overlap in significant ways. Some poets like the Surrealist Peter Blegvad set their words to music. Musicians also make songs of poems, as in Joni Mitchell’s rendering of W.B. Yeats’ `The Second Coming…

...John Cale’s version of Dylan Thomas’s `Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night…

...or Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take this Waltz’ based on Lorca’s
poem `Little Viennese Waltz’...

Some songwriters, too, have the lyrics of a poet. Many cite Bob Dylan as a prime example, or his forebear, Woody Guthrie, who wrote poetic narratives on the lives of the poor. This particularly American tradition is carried on today by artists like Gillian Welch, who write the stories of the outcast, poor and bereft. Written about the tragedy of American sharecroppers in the 1930s, Welch’s `Annabelle’ recalls Walker Evan’s eponymous photographs of Depression-era poverty. Songs like this also recall the origins of poetry, as an essentially sung form and a means to convey oral histories.


April 02, 2011

Dylan Thomas Tour

Writing about web page http://www.newyorkfuntours.com/dylan-thomas.html

New York, Greenwich Village

I have been meaning to write up something about this for ages, but I have been completely snowed under with work recently. New York fun tours have set up a Dylan Thomas tour of Greenwich Village in New York: http://www.newyorkfuntours.com/dylan-thomas.html and, a good few months ago, I was invited with a group of Welsh artists and actors to go on the inaugural tour led by the writer Ianto Jones. The script for the tour has been written by the poet Peter Thabit Jones and Dylan Thomas’s daughter Aeronwy Thomas.

New York, Dylan Thomas Tour, Ianto Jones

The tour took us around many of Dylan Thomas’s old haunts. It began at the church where hundreds attended Thomas’s funeral – St. Luke’s in the Field – and it visited the sites of speakeasies which he frequented, and the Cherry Lane Theatre set up by Edna St. Vincent Millay, where Thomas gave one of his most successful American readings. We were able to have a look inside the beautiful Washington Square Hotel, where Thomas used stay during his tours of NYC, and we also went to visit Patchin Place where E.E. Cummings, poet and friend of Thomas, used to live. It was also where Djuna Barnes used to live, and Ianto Jones pointed out her house. Finally, we saw the hospital where Thomas was treated – St Vincent’s – and the eponymous White Horse Tavern which was one of his favourites.

New York, Greenwich Village, Cherry Lane Theatre

Overall, it was a really entertaining tour, and it gave a powerful sense of what Greenwich Village must have been like in the fifties. The facts about Thomas and the readings from his letters and writing were illuminating, but the tour also gave a more general history about the stories behind Greenwich Village, such as Thomas’s namesake Bob Dylan.

New York, Dylan Thomas Tour

The people on the inaugural tour were an interesting lot. There was the winner of this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize, Elyse Fenton, whose poetry collection_Clamor_ discusses war from the point of view of a soldier’s wife waiting at home. It’s a great collection, and later Elyse gave a short reading of some very moving and powerful poems. There was also the cast and crew of the Welsh film Third Star, set in Pembrokeshire, including the writer Vaughan Sivell. There were a number of other Welsh actors too including Hywel John and Emer Kenny, as well as Welsh radio and drama producers, the British consulate and his wife, and many others.

New York, Greenwich Village, EE Cummings
E.E. Cummings’ house
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New York, Greenwich Village, Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes’ house


January 02, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: The Poetry of Dylan Thomas —– December 2010/January 2011.

Last year, I joined the Nittany Valley Writer’s Network in Pennsylvania, and I have been trying to convince some of the other members of the wondrous nature of poetry. Consequently, they’ve asked me to write a column in the newsletter on “Why Poetry Matters”, the title taken from Jay Parini’s excellent book Why Poetry Matters.

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The State Theatre put on a production of the play “Under Milk Wood” on New Year’s Eve. The play was written by Dylan Thomas, a poet from Wales, an often forgotten region of Britain. The play tells the story of a small town – its hypocrisies, its victories, its small kindnesses, its gossip. Based on a real Welsh town, the play offers a universal narrative that details the beauty and folly of everyday human life.

Thomas is one of the most inventive poets to have ever written in the English language. Take for example “Altarwise by Owl-light”, a poem that retells the life of Jesus Christ:

The atlas-eater with a jaw for news,
Bit out the mandrake with tomorrow’s scream.

An unsavory tabloid journalist – the atlas-eater – reports the news of Christ’s birth, but there is also the mandrake root, which, in mythology, was said to have a terrifying scream that would kill all those who heard it. Thomas describes “tomorrow’s scream” envisioning the uncertainty of the future, and perhaps the fact of our mortality.

Thomas is an expert at crafting and grafting language, yet he is also a poet of emotion, compassion and nostalgia, and at the end of a long year, I am reminded of the final lines from his prose-poem, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”.

I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.


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