AmeriCymru spoke to Welsh poet and Seventh Quarry poetry magazine founder and editor Peter Thabit Jones about plans for the forthcoming DT100 ( Dylan Thomas 100th Anniversary ) celebrations in New York and other US cities.
“Dylan Thomas is a cultural icon around the world and a poet who made a major impact on poetry itself. In many ways, poetry was never the same after the publication of the astonishing 18 Poems in 1934 and 25 Poems in 1936. For Wales, it is a great opportunity to celebrate his life and works and to put the spotlight on the main places of his inspiration, Swansea and Laugharne, indeed the whole of Wales.”
AmeriCymru: Hi Peter and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. What in your opinion is the significance of this Dylan Thomas centenary year to Wales and the Welsh American community?
Peter: Dylan Thomas is a cultural icon around the world and a poet who made a major impact on poetry itself. In many ways, poetry was never the same after the publication of the astonishing 18 Poems in 1934 and 25 Poems in 1936. For Wales, it is a great opportunity to celebrate his life and works and to put the spotlight on the main places of his inspiration, Swansea and Laugharne, indeed the whole of Wales. It will also be an opportunity to spotlight both literatures, English-language and Welsh-language, the unique culture of Wales and its varied and inspiring landscapes. It will be great if Welsh tourism, as well as literature, also gets a huge boost via DT100.
AmeriCymru: Of course, Dylan Thomas visited the US several times in his later years. How do you think he rated and valued the experience?
Peter: It was Dylan who wanted to go on that final tour, against the wishes of Caitlin and his tour-organiser, John Malcolm Brinnin. I think he was probably shocked and awe-struck by America, in particular New York, on the first visit. He was an ‘impoverished poet’, escaping a country still stuck in the rationing of World War Two, so the sheer size of everything American must have been a real eye-opener. He wrote a letter to his parents describing the size of an average American dinner and he sent sweets and treats back home for Caitlin and the children. He made many close friends there, such as sculptor David Slivka, who was to be the one, with Ibram Lassaw, to make Dylan’s death mask; and he loved to sit and talk to working-class, non-literary men in pubs such as The White Horse Tavern. He was ‘at home’ in such places.
I also think the incredible response to his first visit from audiences, where the likes of poet e. e. cummings were blown away by Dylan’s performances, endorsed a need for more clarity in his writing, which he had already started in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog and in Deaths and Entrances. Under Milk Wood was a step in that direction and had he lived I think he would have written dramas for television and worked on scripts for commercial films. Maybe Lennon and McCartney would have chosen him, rather than fellow Welshman Alun Owen, to write the script for A Hard Day’s Night, as they were fans of Dylan. He met many famous people during his visits, such as Charlie Chaplin, and he was as excited as any fan by such a meeting. His historic Caedmon recordings established what was to become the spoken-word industry. Dylan, in many ways and all alone, did what The Beatles were to do in 1964: take America by storm.
AmeriCymru: We understand that the First Minister of Wales will be visiting New York in February 2014 and that he will be guided on the Dylan Thomas Walking Tour as part of the DT100 launch in America . Care to tell us more about this visit?
Peter: Yes, the visit by the First Minister of Wales will be the launch of DT100 Starless and Bible Black in America, organized by The British Council. My and Aeronwy’s Dylan Thomas Walking Tour of Greenwich Village, commissioned and developed in 2008 by Catrin Brace of the Welsh Assembly Government in New York, will be launched as a tourist pocket-book. It has previously been available as a PDF, an audio version narrated by Welsh actor John Pierce Jones, and a guided tour with New York Fun Tours. Along with the tourist pocket-book, The British Council and Welsh Government have commissioned a company to do an internet/smart phone version. I have been helping the company and it is an exciting development, which hopefully will stimulate an interest in Dylan and his New York visits among young people who engage with this new technology.
The First Minister, other dignitaries, and the media will experience aspects of the Walk, such as The White Horse Tavern, guided by an official New York tourist-guide, Hannah Ellis, Dylan’s granddaughter, and me. My New York publisher, Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications, will be accompanying me. Robert Titley of the Welsh Government in New York has organized it all.
Also, my New York publisher has organized a launch for the book at Poet’s House, New York, on March 5th. Hannah has written the Foreword; and it has such (extra) things as an unpublished photo of Dylan’s death mask, a drawing self-portrait by Dylan, a drawing of Dylan and Caitlin by Caitlin Thomas, and paintings of Dylan by America’s Carolyn Mary Kleefeld and Carey Crockett, and Italy’s Gianpiero Actis. I will give a talk, Dylan Thomas in New York, and Stanley H. Barkan, a terrific reader, will read some poems at the launch.
AmeriCymru: Are there plans to visit other US cities?
Peter: Yes, I am at the NEMLA Conference in Pennysylvania in early April, where I’ll be on a literary translation panel and where I’ll give a talk on Dylan Thomas and organise a poetry workshop. Whilst back in America, the book will be launched at the historic The Grolier Poetry Workshop in Boston on April 9th. I’ll deliver my talk again and Dr. Kristine Doll, my host and a poet, and poet and owner of the Bookshop, Ifeanyi Menkiti, will read some poems. Then in July, when I am writer-in-residence again in California for a fifth summer, it will be launched at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, where I’ll be accompanied by Carolyn Mary Kleefeld and John Dotson.
Its Welsh launch, by the way, will be at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea. I have also researched and organized a Dylan Quotations Trail, which will be on display for people to follow at the Museum, from July 2014 to March 2015.
AmeriCymru: Can you tell us a little about the internet app version of the Dylan Thomas Walking Tour Of Greenwich Village, which is being launched to coincide with the centenary?
Peter: It is based on the book version and is being produced by a Welsh company. A Welsh actor is being chosen to narrate the Walk and read some of Dylan’s works. Obviously an app has so much creative and interactive potential and so I can’t wait to see what is produced. Aeronwy and I always felt there should be a tourist book version and she would be so pleased. I’m sure, too, she would be thrilled by an app version. Her daughter, Hannah, is very excited by the book and the app.
AmeriCymru: Where can people go online to discover more detail about the various events and publications?
http://dylanthomas.org ; secondly, The British Council/Wales website, under Starless and Bible Black; thirdly, the Poets House website; and there will be various other links as things unfold.
AmeriCymru: How will your international poetry publication, The Seventh Quarry, mark the centenary?
Peter: I am including some wonderful drawings of Dylan during periods of his life by Swansea artist Jeffrey Phillips in the Winter/Spring and Summer/Autumn issues. Jeff has put together an exhibition on Dylan that will tour parts of Wales. I have also interviewed Dreena Morgan-Harvey of the Dylan Thomas Theatre in Swansea for the Summer/Autumn issue. Lastly, Quarry Press will publish a chapbook of Dylan-inspired work by a writers’ group based in Swansea. I will give a talk on Dylan and carry out a writing workshop with the group.