By Dr. Bronwen Price
This year marks the centenary year of the birth of Dylan Marlais Thomas, the Swansea-born poet who revolutionized English-language poetry and who became a legend in his lifetime.
To celebrate this landmark year, Literature Wales (Wales’ National Company for literature, funded by the Welsh Government) decided to strip back to the Welsh core of this international figure. Often misidentified as Irish and with a vibrant legacy as loud as his words, Wales continues to struggle to claim Dylan as its own. His writing links inextricably with the places and with the people who shaped his childhood and who drew him back time and time again. Wales — the place in which he felt truly comfortable to write — inspired his poetry and prose.
Keen to share the many special communities Dylan knew well, Literature Wales crafted a series of one-off extraordinary experiences that take visitors to the very heart of Dylan Thomas’ world—to the vast seascapes, to the village tracks, to the urban greys, to the dusky moorlands, to the brimming meadows and to the lush parklands stretching across Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Swansea.
A who’s who of Wales’ current batch of contemporary literary greats — including comedian Griff Rhys Jones, author and scriptwriter; Andrew Davies (Pride & Prejudice, BBC, 1995); National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke; former Eisteddfod Archdruid T. James Jones; and writer Owen Sheers.
Between May and November 2014, we will travel by boat, by canoe, by horse-drawn carriage, by bus, by steam train, on foot and on horseback as we explore the richness of the Welsh landscapes, its hospitality, its culture and its gastronomy. Pitched as literary adventures, these experiences includes both half- and full-day trips, evening events and residential holidays. Ticket prices range from $11 – $76 for the half and full days, and between $797 – $1280 for the four-day/ three-day and for the six-day /five-night residential tours (not including flights), which includes all food and accommodation provided by stunning independent country hotels, guesthouses and historic inns from the much-celebrated Welsh Rarebits and Great Little Places collection.
Literature Wales ran a trial of one of the tours earlier this year. Travelling over the Taf Estaury by canoe, we moored up on the reed banks and turned back to view the tumbling silted-up medieval port town of Laugharne. Professor John Goodby and Dylan Thomas Society Chair Jeff Towns described Dylan’s time here, and how he often rowed over the estuary to Llansteffan and Llanybri to visit friends and his favorite pubs.
This very landscape, these experiences, and these people heavily influenced his work. We listened to stories and poems set and written in this place, as the canoes bobbed to the incoming tide and the tiny freshwater crabs milled around the paddles resting in the water. Enthralled by ‘Over Sir John’s Hill’ whilst looking back and forth between the hill and Dylan’s Writing Shed, we then delighted at extracts from ‘The Peaches’ whilst peering at the start of the valley that winds its way towards Fern Hill Farm—Dylan’s mother’s ancestral home. The tide carried us back to Laugharne straight past The Boathouse – Dylan Thomas’s final home — before retiring for an afternoon ale in Browns Hotel, Dylan’s local and reputedly favorite pub.
Dylan left an imprint on the memory of the places he knew outside Wales, across England and on to the United States. In addition, during summer/fall this year, Literature Wales will run literary tours in Oxford, where Dylan lived and worked before the Second World War, and in Fitzrovia, where Dylan repeatedly returned for work and socializing.
Wales has so much to gain from reconnecting with Dylan Thomas, and Literature Wales promises to take visitors, residents and writers on this odyssey together.
Highlights of the Centenary Celebration
May: Laugharne – Dylan Thomas’ Laugharne: The Boat, the Pelican and Browns Hotel. A walk exploring Dylan’s Laugharne, followed by dinner at Browns and a performance by the actor Guy Masterton, nephew of Richard Burton. The day ends with a sunset boat trip up the Taf Estuary.
May: South West Wales – Dylan Thomas at Home, four days/three nights. Residential tour sampling some of Wales’ best places to stay and to eat, and exploring some of the special places in which Dylan made his home.
July: Swansea – Dylan Thomas’ Swansea Hollywood. Explore the remains of the fleapit cinemas Dylan used to frequent with scriptwriter Andrew Davies, delving into Dylan’s love of Hollywood and the influence of 1930s/40s movie classics on his writing. Followed by a special screening of Andrew Davies’ new BBC Dylan Thomas drama A Poet in New York.
August: Ceredigion – Dylan Thomas’ Ceredigion Coast: Llareggub and the Black Lion. A trip to the places that inspired Dylan’s play for voices Under Milk Wood, including a visit to the bungalow that hosted the notorious shooting incident. Includes a locally sourced meal in another favourite pub, followed by a performance by the actors Helen Griffin and Adrian Metcalfe.
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. Followed by a Q&A with the surviving Beat Poet and former Poet Laureate of the United States Phil Levine, who cites Dylan as an influence on his work.
August: South West Wales – Dylan Thomas at Play, four days/three nights. Residential tour sampling some of Wales’ best places to stay and to eat, and exploring some of the places in which Dylan played, socialized and relaxed.
To book tickets and for further information, contact Literature Wales on: 029 2047 2266 / firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.literaturewales.org/a-dylan-odyssey to download the Dylan Odyssey brochure, or to receive a hard copy send a self-addressed envelope marked ‘A Dylan Odyssey’ to: Literature Wales, 4th Floor, Cambrian Buildings, Cardiff, Wales, CF10 5FL.
For more information on the Dylan Thomas 100 Festival as a whole, visit www.dylanthomas100.org