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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Poetry Focus: Dylan Thomas

Eyewear is beginning a new occasional guest feature. Its Poetry Focus series of poets will showcase poets writing, in pithy prose on a poet that's meant something to them, and been, in some way, sidelined, undervalued, or even misread. It's an opportunity to correct the way we've been reading, and thinking, about "poet's poets", and other mavericks.

Dylan Thomas by Kate Noakes

In the pouring rain I tramp along the boat house lane, press my face against the window in the garage-turned-writing shed and squeeze in between the tongue and groove to breathe the same air, finger the crumpled paper and look out over Dylan’s heron-priested shore. Call it improbable, madness, love.

Disdained by some for his over-loaded language, Dylan is my first poetic hero. I was brought up on his breathless sentences, imaginative collective nouns, tightly observed stories and revelry with words. Language is what’s important, like these kennings:

‘………I, a spinning man,/glory to this star, bird/ roared, sea born, man torn, blood blest………’,[1]

rhythms:

‘And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon’[2]

and extended metaphors:

‘Over St, John’s hill,
The hawk on fire hangs still;
In a hoisted cloud, at drop of dusk, he pulls his claws
And gallows, up the rays of his eyes the small birds of the bay
And the shrill child’s play
Wars
Of the sparrows and such who swansing, dusk, in wrangling hedges
And blithely they squawk
To fiery tyburn over the wrestle of elms until
The flash of a noosed hawk
Crashes, and slowly the fishing holy stalking heron
In the river Towy below bows his tilted headstone.’[3]

"I write like Dylan Thomas" boasted one heckler at the Laugharne festival this year. I doubt that very much. Travestied, satirised, but never bettered, Dylan is the man and writer of the greatest villanelle.[4]

Hopefully the new film of his love-life will bring readers back to his work. The pity of it now is that there’s a phone mast over St. John’s hill.

[1] Prologue to 18 Poems
[2] "And death shall have no dominion"
[3] "Over St. John’s hill"
[4] "Do not go gentle into that good night"

Kate Noakes' first collection, Ocean to Interior, was published by Mighty Erudite Press in 2007. She runs Boomslang Poetry (www.boomslangpoetry.co.uk) offering readings, workshops and an eponymous poetry magazine.
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