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A Dylan Odyssey by Literature Wales

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A Dylan Odyssey

2014 is the centenary year of the birth of Dylan Marlais Thomas, the Swansea-born poet who revolutionised English-language poetry and became a legend in his lifetime.

 

One of the most original voices of the 20th century, Thomas had a rare and powerful passion for poetry and a flair for verbal experimentation that set him apart from his peers. An influence on talents as diverse as Ted Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Richard Burton and Patti Smith, his work continues to excite new audiences. Poems such as ‘Fern Hill’ and ‘Death shall have no dominion’ and his verse play Under Milk Wood are taught in schools and regularly performed all over the world. His centenary year invites readers and admirers to re-engage with Dylan Thomas, and explore some of the myths that surround his name.

 

A formidable voice when it came to the poetry of place, Dylan Thomas left an imprint on the memory of towns and cities across Wales, England and beyond.

 

Literature Wales’ A Dylan Odyssey, part of the Welsh Government-led Dylan Thomas 100 Festival in 2014, is an opportunity to revisit the poems and experience the landscapes that inspired them. Fans of Thomas will be celebrating his life and legacy in Wales, England, Ireland and the United States. Literature Wales organised a warm-up event on 20 July, 2013 which saw audiences canoeing out onto the Taf Estuary to view Dylan’s Boathouse from the water, followed by jazz and New York-inspired food in food critic Simon Wright’s culinary emporium. Throughout 2014, poets and singers, scholars, actors and novelists will be performing, celebrating and revisiting the life and legacy of Wales’ best-known author.

 

 

The Events

 

 

 
  • May: Laugharne – The Rats, the Dog and the Heron. A children’s walk re-tracing the steps of the Thomas children and their dog Mably, from the Boathouse to the lawn by the estuary, for a picnic, game of rounders and tales from storyteller Daniel Morden and Dylan’s granddaughter Hannah Ellis. Followed by an adult’s walk and boat trip exploring Laugharne.
     
  • June: Cardiff – Dylan Thomas, Surrealism & Popular Culture. An after-hours walk around the National Museum, Cardiff focusing on Dylan Thomas’ interest in Surrealism, and his influence on other artists. To include exhibitions of work by Ceri Richards, photographer Lee Miller, and others.
  • July: Swansea – Dylan Thomas’ Swansea Hollywood. Explore the remains of Dylan’s Swansea crumbling old cinemas with scriptwriter Andrew Davies, film critic Berwyn Rowlands and Jeff Towns, delving into his love of Hollywood and the influence of 1930s/40s movie classics on his writing. Followed by a special introduced screening.
     
 
 
  • August: Oxford – Dylan Thomas’ Oxford, Jazz & the Beat Poets. Owen Sheers and Dylan’s granddaughter Hannah Ellis explore the grounds of Magdalen College and visit South Leigh, finishing with a talk on the lawns outside the Taylors’ Holywell Ford home. Followed by a Q&A with some of the surviving Beat Poets who were influenced by Dylan.
     
  • September: Caitlin Thomas’ War: Talsarn on Horseback. Horse-trek through the byways which Caitlin, Dylan’s wife, used to explore on the back of borrowed ponies, having retreated there during the war. Followed by a talk from National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke in one of the local pubs the Thomases frequented.
     
  • October: London – Pop-up Dylan Thomas 100 Festival. Featuring walks, with celebrity fans including Griff Rhys Jones, exploring Dylan’s connections with Soho and Fitzrovia.
 

 

 

The Places

 

 
  • Swansea: Dylan Thomas was born in October 27, 1914 at No 5, Cwmdonkin Drive in the Uplands area of Swansea. The Edwardian house where he was born is now a small hotel and arts venue. There are Thomas landmarks all over Swansea, from Wind Street where he drank with fellow hacks while working as a journalist, to Castle Street where he met other writers and artists such as Vernon Watkins and Alfred Janes, to the statue of Captain Cat. Both Swansea Museum and the National Waterfront Museum will be hosting special Dylan Thomas exhibitions and gallery trails during 2014.
  • Laugharne, Carmarthenshire: Dylan Thomas settled in Laugharne in 1938- 1940, and again in 1949 until his death. During these periods he moved house several times before settling with his wife, Caitlin, and children at the Boathouse, now a small museum. His writing shed can still be seen looking out over the shimmering estuary of the Taf. Among his many drinking dens was Brown’s Hotel, now a boutique hotel and bar. Across the estuary, on the Llansteffan peninsula, the young Dylan would visit his auntie Annie at her ramshackle farmhouse, the inspiration for the poem ‘Fern Hill’; the Wales Coast Path, which opened in May 2012, is a great way to retrace the poet’s steps in rural Carmarthenshire.
  • Cardigan Bay. Thomas lived at 'Plas Gelli' near Talsarn between 1941 and 1943 and at 'Majoda' in New Quay in 1944-45. He began work on Under Milk Wood while living at New Quay, and the seaside town in Ceredigion is thought to have been the inspiration for Llareggub. The Dolau Inn, Caitlin Thomas’s favourite pub, was also frequented by Alistair Graham, Evelyn Waugh's lover and the inspiration for the character Lord Cut-Glass. In early 1971, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O Toole, and many other actors arrived in nearby Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, for the shooting of Andrew Sinclair’s film version of Under Milk Wood.
  • London: At pubs like the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place and the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street, Dylan Thomas caroused with painter Augustus John, met his wife Caitlin, and scripted the many BBC radio programmes he worked on.
 
 
  • Oxfordshire: Dylan Thomas struggled to make ends meet. For some years he lived in houses provided by a patron, Margaret Taylor, wife of the historian AJP Taylor. These included, from 1946 to 1947, a summerhouse in the Taylors’ garden in Oxford and, from 1947 to 1949, a house in South Leigh in Oxfordshire.
  • Ireland: Caitlin Thomas née Macnamara was married to Dylan on 11 July 1937. Her grandfather was the squire of two estates in County Clare. Dylan was in Ireland on two occasions, including a visit Ardara, Donegal with the critic Geoffrey Grigson and a trip to Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co. Kerry.
  • New York: Thomas was a regular visitor to America, where he was acclaimed as both poet and performer. During his fourth and final trip, Thomas left his room for a drink – which became, in his own words, “eighteen straight whiskeys”. The next morning he was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital where he lapsed into a coma for five days, dying on November 9, 1953.
 

 

 

Key Facts

 

Born Swansea, 27 October, 1914

Died New York, 9 November, 1953

 

 

Where are the events? Swansea, Laugharne and South Carmarthenshire, South Ceredigion and North Carmarthenshire, Cardiff, Oxford, London, Ireland, New York

 

 

Possible angles/stories: poetry/literature and travel, city walks and rural hikes, book and arts festivals, interviews with authors and biographers, hotels, local food and drink, celebrity associations.


 

 

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