The 44th Still Life of my 2014 year-long project.
Today is Dylan Thomas’ Centenary. He died in 1953, the year before I was born, at the far too young age of 39. He is one of my favourites, not for his life style, I don’t think he would have been someone I would have wanted to know, but for his writing. When he died I feel he was only just beginning to find his real voice. For many years he wanted to be T S Elliot, but with his short stories, poems like Fern Hill and play for voices Under Milk Wood, he had gone back to his roots and found a universal voice in his past and limitations of his environment. He had a great ability not just with words but with poetic forms, the ease of what we read and hear came from hours of agonising work and re-writing.
A fond memory I hold on to is of sitting on cold winter Sunday afternoons in front of the fire in our front room, listening with my mother to the LP of Under Milk Wood. Hopefully the language must have influenced me, this would have been around 1962, I didn’t understand the double-entendres, and we always laughed at Organ Morgan because my father was a fine organist and loved Bach’s music.
When I went to art college in Cardiff in 1973, wherever I went I seemed to meet people who had got drunk with or bought Dylan a drink, it was part of the myth building. How many really had is highly debateable. It is a pity that many of those who by then were the establishment didn’t financially support him more. There has always been a ‘sqiffyness’ by universities and poetry organisations because of his continued popularity, being accessible is never good for a reputation in the arts. Look today at Grayson Perry or a poet like Roger McGough.
I have seen this many times. When attending a conference run by Academi (the former Welsh Academy of Literature) which took place in Wexford, Ireland. I went because one of my favourite writers, Dermot Bolger, was speaking, and as part of my then job these events were useful networking occasions. In the hotel we were staying in a group of women from Maesteg had gone for a weekend away, by 10pm they had nearly drunk the bar dry and were singing most of Tom Jones’ repertoire. One of the Academi members said to another that they ‘…brought shame on Welsh culture’. I think I know who Dylan Thomas would have joined that evening.
On Thursday I drove about 20 minutes away from my flat, beyond Leek to the Staffordshire moors. The road rises and rises then runs along an ‘edge’ as they are known. Along there is the Mermaid Inn (now a self catering holiday place), once a very bleak pub out on the moors, they could easily have filmed Jamaica Inn there, it is always chilly and windy and the area gets snowed in before almost anywhere else. The weather can change quickly up here, and within a few minutes the day went from a warm late autumn day to cold rain. There is a pool (Blake Mere) which I photographed (as have many thousands of others) which is supposed to have a mermaid living in it who lured young men leaving the pub on dark nights into the bottomless pool. It is a landscape etched with dry stone walls (walls where stone is laid and fitted to each other rather than cemented together) and it is wonderful to think that all those thousands of miles of dry stone walls being made by people over many hundreds of years; they would have dug out and shaped the stones then with remarkable skill built the walls which because of the gaps can withstand high winds and big winters. There will be more photographs from this visit to come soon.