On Wednesday I read with Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea as part of the Dylan Thomas Festival. I was very excited about the invitation, and it was only when the organiser, Jo Furber, asked me about whether Dylan Thomas had influenced me, that I realised why it meant so much to me.
I first remember being aware of Dylan Thomas when I was about eleven and my older brother studied Under Milk Wood at school. He relished the language and humour and started reciting chunks of it at home in his best Richard Burton impression. I’m glad to say his class were listening to it, not just reading it. I don’t think I’d realised before the importance of hearing poetry and the great pleasure of speaking it – particularly so with the kind of poetry that fills the mouth as this does. My brother was thrilled with the ‘naughtiness’ of Llareggub and that made a great impression on me, too. Neither of us realised you could be a serious and respected poet and subtly slip in something so rude (as we perceived it). And there was more, of course. My brother’s enthusiasm prompted my mother to dig out a Dylan Thomas collection from the bookcase, and although some of it was beyond me then, I knew Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night very well by the time my brother died three years later. I know that’s the one villanelle everyone digs out when they’re teaching form – something else that has been immensely important to me – but it remains the pinnacle of that particular form, and for good reason. The containment of strong emotion in the manacles of a tight form gives it great power, and that’s probably the most important thing I learnt from this particular master.
I was thrilled to appear at the Dylan Thomas Festival – a festival where the focus is, thanks both to its namesake and location, so much on a fundamental love of language and its musicality. It’s one of my greatest joys to read poetry to an appreciative audience. For me, poetry is meant to be experienced in the mouth and in the ear, and it’s always a thrill to bring those flat words on the page to life for the pleasure of other language lovers. And I’m sure my brother was there in spirit.