Celebrate the Life and Works of Wales’ Most Famous Poet
This is the second in a series of occasional features about Wales to be posted in the months leading up to the first ever Dewithon, or Wales Readathon, which is taking place from 1st to 31st March 2019.
The 14th May is International Dylan Thomas Day, an occasion when people around the world are invited to honour the life and works of Wales’ most famous English-speaking poet and writer – a date chosen because it marks the anniversary of the first reading by Thomas of his ‘Play for Voices’, Under Milk Wood on stage at 92Y The Poetry Center, New York in 1953.
All manner of lively events have been scheduled to take place this year, including poetry recitals, book readings, film screenings, theatre productions, concerts, visits to Thomas’s Swansea home and other haunts, walking tours, pub crawls and, of course, renderings of Under Milk Wood. Please follow this link for a taste of what’s to come.
Do you celebrate International Dylan Thomas Day? Please share your plans here and on Twitter using the hashtag #DylanDay.
WHO WAS DYLAN THOMAS?
Born and raised on the coast of South Wales, Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953), the son of a seamstress and a grammar school teacher, came to prominence as a teenager when many poems for which he became famous (such as “And death shall have no dominion”) were published. In 1943 he caught the attention of several leading figures in London’s literary community and was invited to publish his first volume of poetry, 18 Poems. He went on to achieve international success with his memorable works and radio broadcasts, remaining popular after his premature death at the age of 39. By the time of his passing, he had acquired a reputation (nurtured to some degree by himself) for being a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet”.
FROM THE ARCHIVE
I have been rummaging about in old files to find something suitable to repost with this feature. I came upon a review first published in 2003 on the now defunct All-Info About Poetry website – the year in which we marked the 50th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s death.
En Route To The White Horse Tavern
A short review of Bob Kingdom’s extraordinary performance as Dylan Thomas in ‘Return Journey’
Return Journey – From the Poetry & Prose of Dylan Thomas
Anthony Hopkins Theatre, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold, North Wales
When Bob Kingdom ambled on to stage in his crumpled grey suit and blue plimsolls to take his place at the dais, he didn’t merely look and sound like Dylan Thomas, he was Dylan Thomas.
His re-enactment of the Welsh poet’s final lecture tour – developed from the stories, poems and anecdotes of a man whose immoderate lifestyle became almost as legendary as his remarkable poetry – played to enthusiastic audiences at Denbighshire’s Clwyd Theatr Cymru. It was but one of countless events taking place throughout Wales in 2003 to mark the 50th anniversary of Thomas’s death, but without doubt, one of the most popular.
Anthony Hopkins originally directed Kingdom in the filmed version of ‘Return Journey‘, which was conceived as a Christmas Day Special for BSB in 1990. The programme was screened four years later on BBC Wales and on Bravo Cable in the USA, to much critical acclaim. Due to popular demand, it was repeatedly shown on Bravo and was eventually adapted for stage. The one-man show went on to tour the USA, London, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, Vienna, Seville, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Sydney and virtually every theatrical nook and cranny of Wales.
Kingdom’s portrayal of his bardic countryman was heartfelt. His mellifluous voice perfectly captured Thomas’s hypnotic rhythms, lush lyricism and masterful timing. Older members of the audience, who perhaps witnessed the poet in the flesh before his premature death in 1953, could repeatedly be heard exclaiming, “it could be Thomas himself standing there!”
The speaker shepherded his audience through the Wales of his youth, on foot and by charabanc, over dunes, through his mouse-like aunt’s front parlour, into Sunday chapel and around the local pubs. His electrifying presence, dry wit and instinctive talent for spinning a yarn astounded and delighted in equal measures. He blended tales of past performances with recollections of pre-war Swansea, borrowing heavily from his childhood memoirs, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, first published in 1940.
His anecdotes were punctuated with readings of “Fern Hill”, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, “A Poem In October” and “Death Shall Have No Dominion”, which captured, beneath his roguish manner, a melancholy awareness of squandered lives and vanquished aspirations.
The reputation of Dylan Thomas has not diminished in the fifty years since his death. He is widely perceived to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century and is regarded by the Welsh as their heroic, ingenious, if somewhat wayward son.
One hopes that Bob Kingdom’s justifiably celebrated performance will continue to enchant audiences for a long time to come. His extraordinary union with Thomas was a thrilling experience to behold and the atmosphere crackled with pleasure and mirth, as the audience shared those final moments before the thirsty raconteur strolled to the White Horse Tavern for those legendary 17 whiskies.
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