Anyone who knows me well enough knows that the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the literature of Welsh Writers in English is part of the force that underpins my love for my hometown.
Picture me at six :small, brown ringlets and abuzz with excitement. I’ve just discovered that a poet was born in Swansea – moreover quite a famous one.
Dad, Dad ! Swansea has a Poet but he’s dead now.
Oh yes Dylan Thomas. well he was a bit of a scandal!
The myth was hardly suitable for a six year old wearing white socks.
It was less than twenty years since DT had died, and we know what the Bible says about prophets and their own towns. In fact Dad said a lot more but …
I would be a mother myself by the time I revisited Thomas’s poetry in an academic setting.
Years later and 150 miles away I studied Dylan Thomas’s poetry under the superb teaching of Tony Brown. I discovered that the cadences of speech, turns of phrase, the unique use of prepositions (Whose coat is that jacket over by there? )and some mispronunciation were part of Welsh Writing in English. So opening up a new literary context and space for me.
Under Milk Wood is probably one of my favourite works. Not in a critical poetical sense, but with a sense of affection, for the humorous light and compassion with which Thomas portrays his characters . They use the figures of speech cadences and tones of my childhood so that they take on the feel of well loved long dead relatives or old friends.
Today I visited the Dylan Thomas Centre. I have visited before but the new format and layout were especially moving. Off stage as it were, voices, film productions and spoken words collided in a sound space – some familiar enough to bring the calm thrill of recognition, a pang of longing and the buzz that comes with live words taking on a life of their own, almost a new context in a dedicated space.
The centre shows tantalising images of Swansea in the aftermath of the blitz – the type where the image changes as you walk past. So there I was bouncing from side to side on the balls of my feet, needing to stare at the images but discovering that what I saw changed and shifted according to where I stood. I was unprepared though for the emotion that accompanied this visit.
Thomas’s certainty that he would be a literary force so that he blazed a trail enabled him to push and extend the meanings of words and phrases. Startling, disturbing innovative phrases are just right: ‘Stop the bus I’m dying of breath .’ is one such phrase sign written on a wall. I laughed out loud because it was just right. Funny, irreverent true!
I was lucky with the weather cold sunny days. The racket of the buoys and seagulls in the marina were more of a background track as the wind whipped off the river and into the old dockyards. Thomas famously wrote the night after the blitz, ‘The Swansea we know has died.’ A sentiment shared by many of my relatives st that time. There are glimpses of the industrial heritages. One or two spit and sawdust pubs remain, the Copper Quarter is being regenerated. The town is ok but it’s pretty ugly in places still. Lovely? I’ll leave you to decide.