The first time was a reading Fern Hill aloud, pacing the room the while, hoping (though not meaning to) that some of the pastoral Dylan stardust of having been so ‘honoured among wagons’ that he was ‘prince of the apple towns’ might rub off on a Londoner.
The second time was a glimpse, from the bus window, of the poet’s boathouse just outside Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, on the way to an Iron Age hill-fort dig overlooking Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Pendine Sands and a week of non-stop rain. Dylan (why do we call the poet by his first name, Bob by his surname?) happens to people like that, steals up on them so that they have to drink his poems with him and he buys all the rounds. That, and the sound of the poet’s indelible voice on the page and on record, and meeting, at the 1970 Poets’ Conference at the Railway Hotel in Cardiff, a roomful of poets all of whom had known him, and then being pleasurably flooded by the music of the poems’ challenging meanings, make Dylan a ‘total immersion’ read which no-one need justify, because he sang as he heard, and that is that.
Over the years, Dylan’s poetry has collected hangers-on falling over themselves to vent their condescensions on him. Tousle-haired and childlike he may have been, and breathtakingly exploitative of his friends to boot, but even this Londoner can say that he thinks he knows a bard when he hears one.
My upcoming course, Reading Dylan Thomas, will trace the Dylan voice back to its bardic roots in Wales and elsewhere. We will, and why not, attempt to sail through the poet’s life and work in a single day, reading closely some of his finest and most deservedly celebrated lyrics and unveiling the rewardingly enigmatic twists and turns of some of those less often read and talked about, and ask ourselves what, beyond the pleasure of the Welsh weave of English words, they may mean, or mean to us.
Want to go Under Milk Wood and deeper into the mind of Swansea’s greatest bard? Book your place on Reading Dylan Thomas with Graham Fawcett today. All welcome.