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April 28, 2011

Why Poetry Matters: War Poetry —– April/May 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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War is all over the news at the moment. The Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East has seen millions of people rise up to demand a new democracy. The news coverage is insufficient to convey their sacrifice. Poetry, however, might fill this gap, because it offers language free from political jingoism.

There have been many solider poets, from the English World War One poets like Wilfred Owen, to the modern day Brian Turner who served in the US army in Iraq. Most recently, however, I discovered Elyse Fenton’s Clamor, which won the $50,000 Dylan Thomas Prize.

Fenton is married to a trauma specialist in the US Army, and_Clamor_ is based on experiences of waiting for him to return from Iraq. The opening poem, ‘Gratitude’, finds the wife listening to her husband describe the grotesque scenes witnessed by her husband. When the body of a burned soldier is delivered ‘beyond recognition’, her husband must be ‘the one to sink the rubber catheter tube’. The distance is frustrating; over the phone, the wife hears ‘rotors / scalping the tarmac-grey sky’. The conversation and the story end, but the question is how long can anyone, let alone her husband, survive? How long before he comes home? The final image might indicate relief or foreboding.


[…] That moment just before we think the end will never come and then
the moment when it does.

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


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