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Thread: Dylan Thomas

  1. #1
    Seasider
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    Dylan Thomas

    Just seen a very interesting film on BBC2 about Dylan Thomas...not so much about his work, but more about his complicated love life. Made me wonder. How does his reputation as a poet now stand? As one who came upon him in the 50s I had a high regard for his work.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    He is still regarded highly, the problem is there is a generation now growing up on a different tradition, namely the Confessional American one mixed with the beats, which obsesses with itself and basically ignores everything else.

    Then again, the influence on Bob Dylan, or Leonard Cohen, or any other number of artists is staggering.

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    Employee of the Month blank|verse's Avatar
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    Thomas is certainly popular, particularly with people who don't read poetry, but to say he is 'highly regarded' critically is just wrong, at least on our side of the Atlantic, I'm afraid, Seasider.

    And he's popular because of his personal life – which is what the film, 'The Edge of Love' concentrates on – rather than his poetry. It's fair to say he's the film-maker's poet, the cliché-loving journalist's poet, not the poet's poet. He certainly fulfils a cultural stereotype that some people love (perhaps in a similar way to how Seamus Heaney fulfils a cultural stereotype to many Americans currently. Except Heaney's better!).

    His overblown, melodramatic writing (and reading) style hasn't really stood the test of time in the way other British poets' work has (Auden, Larkin, Hughes). A lot of people love Under Milk Wood though, and that famous villanelle, of course, both helped in no small way by Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton. So he can't be ignored; but perhaps he's in the second division of 20th century poets.

    Contemporary Scottish poet Don Paterson takes a pop at him in his Forward Prize-winning poem 'Song for Natalie 'Tusja' Beridze' (from Rain, 2009):

    O Natalie – I forgive you everything, even your
    catastrophic adaptation of those lines from 'Dylan's' already
    s h i t e
    Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

    [My s t r e t c h i n g.] And even though the poem is tongue-in-cheek, it's hard to imagine him saying the same of, say, Eliot's The Waste Land.

    You can listen to a couple of his recordings on the Poetry Archive, here. You'll note even they admit: 'detractors accuse him of being drunk on language as well as whiskey'; although they do emphasize the importance of voice and the 'music of his poems', perhaps something a few modern poets would do well to improve.

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    I didn't say he was highly regarded...I said I had a high regard for him in my twenties, perhaps because I had a Welsh father. I remember a prose piece he wrote called The Outing..a hilarious account of a young boy going on a coach trip with a group of men...his duty was to look after the coach when they were all in the pub. Very funny. As for his poems they were incantatory and quite hypnotic to listen to. And Under Milk Wood is a classic in my opinion.
    And as JBI said he has had an influence on writers like Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

  5. #5
    Employee of the Month blank|verse's Avatar
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    I didn't say he was highly regarded...
    And I didn't say you did. But there does seem to be a generational split regarding liking Thomas; at several poetry groups I've been to, older members of the group have said they like his work, and, as I mentioned, the readings by Hopkins and Burton. And he may have been influential on pop culture figures, but I can't think of any poets who write in his shadow now.

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    This cropped up in conversation just the other day.

    I was talking with several college friends (age 19-24) over dinner, and the conversation moved to Wales. Being the only Welshman amongst the English, I felt the need to defend my rather rainy spit of land. So while extolling the virtues of my homeland, I said something like: "...and, of course, we've produced lots of great artists."

    "Such as?"

    "Well, there's Dylan Thomas for a start."

    "Who?"

    My jaw literally dropped. Not a one of them had ever heard of Dylan Thomas. I was genuinely horrified - I started listing (and quoting from) his major works, and they still had no idea what I was talking about.

    So, it would seem that Thomas is not as well known as I thought he was... which is a shame, because I really do think him one of the best poets of the last century.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    [QUOTE=blank|verse;1016086]Thomas is certainly popular, particularly with people who don't read poetry, but to say he is 'highly regarded' critically is just wrong, at least on our side of the Atlantic, I'm afraid, Seasider.


    [QUOTE=blank|verse;1016086] And I didn't say you did]

    I was not speaking on behalf of any critical establishment, merely expressing a personal view I held in my teens.I'm afraid your reproach was wrongly targetted.

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    He's certainly famous enough. For those young folks to never have heard of him strikes me as strange. We did the famous poem in high school anyway, but maybe he is less famous than he used to be?

    I believe Bob Dylan made his name after an actor, though many believe it was after the poet.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    I had to read Thomas in secondary school as well, I'm surprised that people hadn't heard of him.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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