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.