DT – the final word.

Nearly fed up of the various Dylanothons or other Laugharniferous verbo-frenzies? Then look away now. I’m going in there for one last gloopy submergence; right in to the heron-stalked sticklebacked, reedy pockmarked estuarine slap of it. Fondling the cockles and snorting in the brilliant, briny green bay-ness. Because there’s something life-affirming in there, something wonderfully open. Isn’t there?

With Dylan, you either get it or don’t. Okaaay, we can say that of everything but what I mean is Thomas is seemingly destined or well-equipped to polarise. There are legitimate calls either way – he can be a pompous, adoration-seeking preacher or a deliciously boozy revolutionary – your call. You could hate him for that ridiculous voice, booming and faux (post elocution lessons) and for his dumb wading (or wallowing?) in the highbrow and the posh. Or you could melt, melt into the stream, the malt, the whisky that is Thomas at his finest.

I do know proper Welsh folks who simply cannot get past that voice, mind; I struggle myself. Because it reeks of a kind of appallingly grasping aspiration towards god-fearing elevation and therefore, well… private schools and hops and horses and England. How can anyone who sounds like that – like he’s auditioning for the RADA/BBC of the forties – be anything other than a complete nob? How, mun? Even if Thomas was effectively auditioning, more or less desperately, for the holy grail of paid work at the Beeb or elsewhere for much of his short career, Dai the Bomb of Solva won’t buy the sub-Etonian in-tone-ay-shunns. You need then, to be seduced past the bombast.

But what, pray, if you are (for example) a feisty gel minded to strike out at the poet’s diabolical treatment of ‘the women in his life’? Or immediately suspicious of anyone who needs a bevvy or eighteen to flush out the creative urge? Or anti-welsh? Or magnificently bright but favour the lean, the skeletally insightful, the tight-arsed prose of contemporary favour? Let’s face it, there are lots of ways to skin the Thomas cat.

Then there’s his status, which in the minds of some may convey instant naffness – ‘cos people love him. Ordinary peeps – yes, those trackie-wearing plebs, those lottery ticket-buying donkeys – some of them too, love Thomas because of those words; not from study but from the whiff or memory of Dylan and of something shared in the air.

Naturally (and maybe I do mean this as a sociological observation) the Welsh intuit or ‘get’ or tap in to something that hums between the landscape and the bloke here. Visitors to the province or the works may of course enter the kingdom of Llarregub or the teenier but no less compelling worlds of Fern Hill or A Child’s Christmas on production of a sherry-stained visa or perhaps just a big daft, responsive heart. Once in, all do feel welcome, I think.

There’s a fascinating link between this now iconic Welshman with his ‘ailing lung’ and the national sport of immersing in song. Is it that Thomas captures something pleasingly characteristic which has a particular rhythm? Certainly – but difficult to specify whether that rhythm is just felt or (even) trace how it springs from the page. The sensation is maybe received musically, as though in an alcohol-stimulated ‘glow’ – which again appeals to most of us as a notion as well as an experience. This should not however deflect us from acknowledging the imaginative power and prodigious intellect at work.

But let’s be honest, it’s more or less accessible poetry – sing-song – that wins us over. Does that make it merely… saccharoidal? No. The greatest triumph and therefore best example – Under Milk Wood – is way too rich for that. Popular sure but also funny, sexy and profoundly beautiful. I’ve been this way before but please do sit and draw in the magnificent windows-opening-simultaneously ‘bible black’ of the Michael Sheen opening to the 2014 Beeb Wales version. (Link in a previous blog – may no longer be available there!) It’s spellbindingly wonderful. Find it and stay with the entire production if you can. Here is all the proof you need, brilliantly understood, superbly executed.

This recent Under Milk Wood is excitingly contemporary as well as true to the work. It brings the words to life far better than Thomas himself could through his own readings. The Sheen masterclass is merely the precursor to a sustained execution of the poetry of this remarkable play. For me it’s then obvious – emphatic. Dylan Thomas may have been an incorrigible scrounger or duplicitous or worse but his legacy stands triumphant and triumphantly against cynicism. If you want to make the argument that this stuff is centred upon hypocrisy then crack on; for me what is left… is not for cynics. It’s for humanity and joy and I believe in it.

Tuning right in let me say I know Laugharne well and can tell you that both the place itself and the writer himself make sense almost explosively, in some fabulous deep fashion, if you park yourself on a bench beneath (say) the castle walls. The estuary village is both quietly delightful and throbbing with daft stories but it needed to be written to be.

Nowhere have I been that gave the epiphanic thwack that standing by the Writing Shed in Laugharne offers. Under Milk Wood – and plenty else – becomes viable, thinkable, familiar and goes scorching to the very heights of word-as-document, as expression of the gorgeous. Both the sound of it and the glorious human warmth of Milk Wood embed it in the hearts of millions the world over. It’s unique in a way that’s at once a lot of fun and stylistically beyond (as we say in Wales.) Meaning it’s both entertaining and bona fide as a work of art.

This is my 200th post and I wanted to write about something important- to me. I love the madness and the boldness in Thomas. I love that being a palpably inadequate bloke, he blazed a trail, he made something mighty and essentially generous. Turn to Under Milk Wood and find his vindication, his moment. Here most obviously he surely floods out beyond local stereotype into things universal; foibles, the workaday truths, the daily poisons, love.

Thinking whilst writing of Thomas, I have been reminded of Joan Miro’s determination to ‘pursue the golden sparks in his soul’ – something I wrote about some moons ago. I said of the Catalan genius

He knew his purpose was to make a poetic response to experience. And he did it for decades. Call me an old tart, but I find that inspiring.

Thomas lacked longevity – that ailing lung failed him. But he had that drive towards the wondrous and I salute him too.

Bute Park Divers.

I walked that millennium way

My hurry a commonplace in the eye of the border

And the riverbank

My breath in unison with the joggers and the students,

The bud-killing cold some amber glory

But the stands as silent as the fish.

The whistle of that city bustle no doubt stilled

After the game that swallowed him

For no man in its dream of Jonah or of Jaws

Drunk well on its remembering.

I bounced on,

Drawn to the bridges.

The flush of youth is here

Craning for trout, or bikes, or signs

The students in their lycra shoals

Miked up to saccharoidal bliss,

Found within their luminous buzz.

Who is lost amongst the cityfolks?

Distracted, scarfless in the permafrost.

Is it cold, cold in there

Where the tiddlers dream who won?

Not traipsing off to Ely or to Eden

By foot or boozy mini-cab

I flank the water.

I wasn’t close – and yet I was.


That soft sphere clasped in her blind ‘basket’

Those four eyes handling.

The adrenalin shaking out its fur.

She goes again.

Through that matrix of fraught failure,

Dry-lipped and unexpressing

This little girl is nearly smiling.


Airborne – she and the tiny earth together

Palmed out towards the radar

Of her own blurred universe.

She grabs; it falls.

By now the room is watching.

Again – a hopeful exhortation

From Dan and Jack and Rhodri bach –


They know this is not rocket science,

They know that it’s not luck

That coaxes or coordinates such things.

But I’m the coach. Not pre-disposed I hope

To seek for epic confirmations, lightning bolts.

A gentle word.

With barely a flicker, she raises hands.

We lend our focus and the ball… lands.

Right over Mid-off.

Under a stony sky on that scuffed pitch

Flecked with the memory of hail

Where Elin still plays horses in Specsaver glasses

And the goal-line technology confounds,

My manly fingers dried out like winter veg

The games, despite the cold, went great.

The warm-up might have lasted years – perhaps it did?

Owain never grew above four feet.

But rarely has a test in Llandissilio been so… passed.

He bossed the thing and flailed that bat

Sword-like and reckless through the chilled swathe

Outside off-stump,

His cheeks flushed, hands numb.

I clapped and stamped and ooohed and aahed

With heart. To keep them happy – to keep me warm.

Calibrating this or that, according to the manual.

So cherish and celebrate this brilliant catch or stop,

The moment of some daft, uplifting grace or bouncing joy

For this or that non-sporty girl or boy.

A spiteful grab, mind, then mild rebellion

As, unsubtly, the littl’uns shirk their fielding job.

Relax. The focus comes and goes when you are eight.

And as it does, where else to look but up?

Distracted by some floating, fleeting presence

I might, in fact, forgive.

From Mid-off comes the call,

Sky-punchingly possessive. Barcud Goch! Barcud Goch!

I drop the ball.

Dumb questions.

Don’t know about you but I hate feeling excluded from stuff; whether it be (literal) entry to something or exclusion through snobbery, for example. For now, if we stop to reflect on all manner of political discourse (please, do!) we may find pretty early some obstructive force, some veil through which we feel we may or should not peek.

On times this will feel just ‘right’, the presence of some justifiable and even necessary filter, through which we have to earn passage, through understanding. Because we need to feel confident of a certain level of intellectual competence in Subject A before we run with it, debate it, unconstruct it. So essentially we fore-arm ourselves, against asking dumb questions, often by turning sheepishly(?) away from those things we ‘don’t know enough about’. Though I am guilty of it, I hate that.

My suspicion is that much of this self-denial of the cerebral joust (that might on reflection be regarded as a life-enhancing or defining stimulus) is more coerced than personally screened. We are made to feel inadequate. Pressures emerge from all levels of the sky-scraping beast that morphs into (or rises from?) say, the body politic/the fiscal gherkin/the evolved system. Us normal folks are lost or spun or misled by something in the constricting ether; something on the one hand rather rundown and bad-breathlike and on the other awesomely pervasive; powerful.

My instinct is to fight that stuff; to defy and to undermine it. This may mean pushing out beyond the ledge of my core subject expertise – that would be er… sport maybe? – and blowing a raspberry at the notion of received wisdoms elsewhere. Received wisdom often perpetuates myth, right? Is often grounded in smugness; may need the faux-oxygen of privilege or the cover of opaqueness. Perhaps mystery itself may be an outlier in this matrix of conformist gunk? And perhaps, therefore we need an occasional, demystifying blast of… punk?

Punk was wonderful for its moral zeal-with-a-mohican. Punk said – if you were listening – stop preening and start speaking from the heart. Stop twiddling those solo’s and tell me something real. It was magnificently articulate and magnificently necessary in that respect. Punk began unpeeling the facades of the worlds of art/music/politics because it seared angrily through; it was a focused mischief blaring wildly out for betterstuff. It may not have paused too long in consideration of the need for nuanced arguments but maybe that counts for urgency rather than in some cool deficiency column. Great punk(s) had no respect, other than that which was earned. Great punks did not understand, so they demanded answers.

John Lydon may have been the only great punk. ‘Metal Box’ from Public Image Limited remains a staggeringly discomfiting but articulate noise, an appropriate racket from which to launch an onslaught against (capitalist(?) drudgery—witness the “shallow spread of ordered lawns”. Something is being punctured or exposed or better revealed; a kind of hypocrisy, a kind of normalcy; a sad, bad intellectual thinness. There is poetry in these dumb questions. These questions might not have been asked… if we’d have just… behaved.

So though I do despair at how we still fawn before the current gods – for ‘growth’/some careering stability/the normalcy of sheepishness – those rib-progglers, those UnCutters, those Occupiers give me hope.