A look back at the news and developments of 2019 in the world of Dylan Thomas and his legacy.
The 65th anniversary of the publication of Under Milk Wood was the catalyst for a collaboration between BBC History and the London based local writing and mentoring centre, Ministry of Stories. Young writers created Round About Candle Street, an East London reworking of Thomas’s classic. Watch the first chapter here.
Under Milk Wood also featured in a BBC blog by Nerys Williams, Associate Professor, University College Dublin. The Road to Milk Wood takes a look at Dylan Thomas in the BBC archives and shares some fascinating ephemera.
The American indie rock duo Better Oblivion Community Center, composed of musicians Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers, released a single entitled Dylan Thomas. The track was performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and went on to be featured on many best-of-the-year lists. Oberst told the NME he was a fan of Dylan Thomas, and the first line of the song “It was quite early one morning” quotes a Dylan Thomas title, but perhaps disappointingly the song perpetuates one of the myths surrounding Thomas with the line “I’ll die like Dylan Thomas, A seizure on the bar room floor”.
Stan Tracey‘s classic recording of his Under Milk Wood inspired Jazz Suite was named in Ronnie Scott’s Top 60 Jazz Albums.
Wales in Kolkata, a season of Welsh arts activity and collaboration at literary festivals in India, was supported by the British Council and Wales Arts International. Among the participants was Swansea University, promoting the International Dylan Thomas Prize, and the award winning dance performance Caitlin, by Light, Ladd & Emberton. The 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize winner, Kayo Chingonyi travelled to Jaipur Literature Festival to participate in two panel discussions. At the same festival, Swansea University’s Dr Elaine Canning, who is Executive Officer of the award, and Professor Daniel Williams, delivered a series of talks to promote the prize and its educational strand DylanEd.
Swansea University became the first British University to introduce an English module based solely on a literary prize, where students will examine contemporary works of fiction, poetry, drama and short story collections long-listed for the International Dylan Thomas Prize.
Former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke selected poems for an edition of BBC Radio’s Poetry Please. She chose Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and discussed Dylan’s use of Welsh language Cynghanedd in the poem.
Over on Twitter the Poetry Society conducted a Classic Poem World Cup. Dylan’s Fern Hill was an early contender but the eventual winner was John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale.
A clip of Anthony Hopkins reciting Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night featured in a so called ‘hype video’ created for the New England Patriots’ Wide Receiver Julian Edelman. Click here to watch.
Under Milk Wood appeared at number 20 in the Radio Times‘ poll of the 30 greatest radio shows of all time. The poll was topped by the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, a programme that has regularly featured works by Dylan Thomas as a choice for castaways.
On February 19th Literature Wales organised a commemoration of the end of the First World War at The Senedd in Cardiff. Holy Glimmers of Goodbye was designed as a day of reflection on the poetry of war and peace in Wales, and the event included a reading by Kirsty Williams AM of Dylan’s A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London.
The Spring 2019 online literary magazine RALPH was dedicated to the Life and Poetry of Dylan Thomas, and included articles by leading Dylan Thomas experts and literary figures such as Paul Muldoon, Owen Sheers, Jeff Towns, and Walford Davies.
Dylan Thomas was one of the 14 Great Welsh Writers to read on St David’s Day according to the Telegraph, and on the same day, online magazine UnHerd published Dylan Thomas: Populist, an article by Freya Sanders. March 1st also saw the launch of Gower Gin Company’s GŴYR: Rhosili featuring a Dylan Thomas quotation and portrait on the label.
On March 11th the 92Y Poetry Center in New York marked it’s 80th anniversary by playing archive recordings of many of the famous poets and writers who’ve graced its stage. The Listening Party included a 1953 recording of Dylan Thomas reciting Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Dylan was a regular performer on the stage at the 92Y and it was the venue for the first cast performance of Under Milk Wood in 1953.
The tragic terrorist incident in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15th, had an unwanted Dylan Thomas connection. The perpetrator quoted Dylan’s Do Not Go Gentle in an unsigned manifesto he published online. In an interesting piece for The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber wrote about When Poems of Resilience Get Twisted for Terrorism, and poet John Kinsella felt compelled to co-opt Dylan’s poem to pen his own villanelle on the subject.
The White Horse Tavern, a favourite drinking haunt of Dylan Thomas, and a popular destination for Thomas pilgrims in New York, has new owners. Well-known restaurateur Eytan Sugarman has taken over prompting fears the traditional nature of the establishment might be altered. The venue was closed for renovations in April and re-opened the following month.
Cardiff now has a cocktail bar, Deaths & Entrances, inspired by Dylan’s poetry collection of the same name.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was included in the list of the 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language in online magazine Literary Hub.
Dylan’s The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower was the inspiration for an excellent podcast on The Poetry Exchange.
World Poetry Day on March 21st saw Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night appear in The Independent‘s 28 of the most powerful poetry lines ever written, and the same day saw the setting for Dylan’s Fern Hill feature in a Countryfile article on Britain’s Best Poetry Walks.
Dylan’s Laugharne writing shed featured in A Room of One’s Own in The Spectator.
Swansea poet Jack Jones talked about his jealousy of his predecessor Dylan Thomas in this BBC clip.
Five times World Darts Champion Raymond van Barneveld quoted Dylan Thomas on his Twitter account when signing off from his darts’ career.
Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Centre is included in a package of major city locations that Swansea Council are seeking a development partner for.
World Book Night on April 23rd included a project to create the Gwalia Gazette, an Under Milk Wood inspired imagined periodical, created using favourite quotes from the play for voices suggested by contributors. You can download a PDF and watch a video here. Under Milk Wood was chosen for the tribute by WBN coordinator Linda Parr.
Laugharne and it’s connections to Dylan Thomas featured in Country Living‘s 8 of the best walking spots on the South Wales Coast
International Dylan Thomas Day
The fifth annual International Dylan Thomas Day took place on May 14th, the anniversary of the first cast performance of Under Milk Wood, that took place in New York in 1953. The day was celebrated with numerous events, media tributes and social media activity. Events took place across Wales, in London, Sunderland, Leeds, St Ives, New York, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Italy, Portugal, Poland, and more. At Aberystwyth Arts Centre the current and former National Poets of Wales, Ifor ap Glyn and Gillian Clarke, read their favourite Dylan Thomas poems. Dylan’s granddaughter Hannah Ellis talked about ‘Dylan Day’ with Wynne Evans on Radio Wales, and the celebration was featured on S4C programme Heno and in Big Issue magazine. Wales in the Movies reviewed big screen adaptations of Under Milk Wood on YouTube, and The Independent Review of Books reviewed Adventures in the Skin Trade. Deserter Blog gave a talk about Drinking with Dylan at the Half Moon in Herne Hill, and Bluestone Wales displayed posters of Dylan’s poems around their resort in Pembrokeshire. In Oldie Magazine, the late Paul Ferris wrote about Dylan’s troubled son Llewelyn. On Twitter the #DylanDay hashtag was trending as was ‘Dylan Thomas’. View Twitter highlights here.
On May 16th, the 2019 International Dylan Thomas Prize was awarded to Guy Gunaratne for his debut novel Our Mad and Furious City. The ceremony took place in the Great Hall at Swansea University’s Bay Campus.
Benjamin Zephaniah chose Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night for My Culture Fix in The Times. Democrat Bernie Sanders was the latest American politician to use the same poem when he included a reading of the poem in an advert for his 2020 presidential campaign.
On May 19th a plaque was unveiled at 53 Battersea Rise, Clapham to mark a former home of the poet and writer Pamela Hansford Johnson, Dylan’s first serious girlfriend.
Dylan’s hand drawn map of Llareggub was part of the Treasures Exhibition that opened at The Riverside in Haverfordwest on June 6th.
Sylvia Plath‘s annotated copy of The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas sold for £11,312 (incl. premium) at Bonhams in London.
One of the two iconic portraits of Dylan Thomas painted by Augustus John was exhibited at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea as part of the National Portrait Gallery‘s Coming Home initiative.
Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood inspired Jazz Suite was featured in The Lark Ascending: The Music of the British Landscape by Richard King, published by Faber and Faber, and Salt Slow, the latest poetry collection by Julia Armfield, takes it’s title from Under Milk Wood.
On Radio 3’s Essential Classics impressionist and actor Alistair McGowan discussed Dylan Thomas as a ‘cultural inspiration’ with presenter Ian Skelly.
Opera singer Sir Bryn Terfel chose the Reverend Eli Jenkin’s Prayer from Under Milk Wood as one of his Inheritance Tracks on BBC Radio 4.
Fashion designer Charles Jeffrey recited from Dylan’s In The Beginning at the June launch of his Loverboy fashion collection.
June Spencer the actress who plays Peggy Archer in the long-running BBC radio soap The Archers turned 100 in June, and in a tribute piece in The Telegraph she recalled meeting a ‘scruffy and nervous-looking “down-and-out” chap in the studio’ who turned out to be Dylan Thomas.
South Wales based booksellers Bijou Books revealed on Facebook that legendary actor Sir Anthony Hopkins had purchased a Dylan Thomas book on a visit to their stall at Cowbridge.
In What I’ve Learnt for The Times DJ and presenter Lauren Laverne revealed that there was a picture of Dylan Thomas (alongside Howlin’ Wolf and Che Guevara) pinned on the wall of the house she grew up in.
Under Milk Wood was included in a list of John Lennon’s favourite books compiled by Far Out Magazine.
The Malting House in Marshfield, former home of Dylan’s friend and collaborator, the critic John Davenport, has been put up for sale. Dylan stayed at the house for several months during the summer and autumn of 1940.
After appearing at the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven poet Pam Ayres posted on Twitter that she’d had “A great few days here in Wales, yesterday visited Laugharne & learned more about Dylan Thomas. ‘Under Milk Wood‘ was the first theatre show I ever saw”.
When Hollywood Came to Fishguard on BBC Radio Wales took a look back at the location filming for the big screen adaptation of Under Milk Wood that took place at Fishguard, Pembrokeshire in 1971. Presented by Chris Stuart from the Ship Inn at Lower Fishguard, the programme reunited those who were involved including actor Ruth Madoc, Hedydd Hughes who was a four-year-old extra in the film, and Dylan Thomas expert Jeff Towns who attended the film premiere in Cardiff.
The long-running saga around Dominion, the film that stars Rhys Ifans as Dylan Thomas, rumbled on. Despite being filmed in 2014 the film has never been screened in the UK, and has made only festival appearances globally. Deadline reported that the film has been renamed Last Call and that K Street Pictures have taken on the worldwide rights. As of January 2020 there is no official word of a UK release.
Another long-running saga, that of the protracted renovations taking place at the Hotel Chelsea in New York, was the subject of a piece in The Villager. The hotel where Dylan was staying when he fell into his final illness has been closed since 2011 and had been expected to re-open during 2019. As of January 2020 it remains closed.
Indigo Dreams Publishing put out a call for contributions to a planned anthology of poetry inspired by, and about, Dylan Thomas. Dear Dylan will be edited by Anna Saunders, and is due for publication in May 2020.
Swansea poet Peter Thabit Jones recorded two podcasts for New York Welsh that discussed the Dylan Thomas walking tour around Greenwich Village that he devised with Dylan’s late daughter Aeronwy, and the reading tours he shared with Aeronwy around North America. Click for Podcast 1 and Podcast 2. Peter also wrote an account of his reading tours, America, Aeronwy, and Me: Dylan Thomas Tribute Tour, which was published by The Seventh Quarry Press in August.
Game of Thrones actor Owen Teale included readings from Dylan Thomas when he read to stroke patients at the University Hospital Llandough in Vale of Glamorgan.
Irish Central published an article on Dylan’s visit to Puck Fair in Kerry. In August 1946, Dylan, accompanied by Caitlin and friends Bill and Helen McAlpine, spent four days at the fair in Killorglin, to gather material for a piece commissioned by Picture Post. The piece was never published.
Laugharne‘s Dylan Thomas connections featured in a travel piece in the Daily Express.
A July episode of ITV Wales’ Fishlock’s Choice included a look at Dylan’s connection to the Carmarthenshire village of Llansteffan.
An event was staged to raise funds for the Memorial Hall in New Quay. The town was home to Dylan Thomas for a time during the 1940s, and the event, hosted by Welsh born artist Dan Llywelyn Hall, included a talk by Thomas expert Jeff Towns as well as poetry readings and an art exhibition.
A performance of Dan y Wenallt, the Welsh language adaptation of Under Milk Wood, won 2nd place in the Drama category at the 2019 National Eisteddfod that took place in Llanwrst, Conwy. During the festival Welsh poet and dramatist T James Jones, who translated Under Milk Wood, was awarded the chair for his poem about the Welsh antiquarian and poet Iolo Morgannwg.
Dylan Thomas was the subject of one of the winning entries in a literary competition inspired by the Hokey-Cokey in The Spectator.
A visit to Laugharne was one the suggestions in 15 Free Things to do in Summer 2019 according to The Independent.
Iggy Pop‘s latest album Free included a recording of Pop reciting Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Pop had previously recorded the same poem for a Cannes Lions Seminar in 2016.
The daughter of Hollywood agent, film producer and screenwriter Richard Gregson revealed that she listened to Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night every night during the last days of her father’s life. Natasha, Gregson’s daughter with his second wife the actress Natalie Wood, recorded her emotional recollections for her father’s funeral service which took place in Llandogo.
Former Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson quoted from In My Craft And Sullen Art in a speech to the Creative Industries Federation, at Somerset House.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was included in Set Me On Fire, a new poetry anthology edited by Ella Risbridger, published by Doubleday.
The Letters of Dylan Thomas was a choice of Australian writer Nathan Besser for Books That Changed Me in the Sydney Morning Herald.
A recording of John Humphrys and Cerys Matthews reciting from Under Milk Wood was included in a tribute package for veteran BBC broadcaster Humphrys’ final appearance on Radio 4’s Today Programme.
Wales Online looked at the history of Swansea’s Kardomah Cafe, a popular place for Dylan to meet up with his friends in the 1930s. The original cafe that Dylan frequented on Castle Street was destroyed during the bombing of Swansea in the Second World War, but the present day cafe has been open on Portland Street since 1957.
Tech boss Elon Musk quoted from Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night in a tweet picturing his SpaceX Starship spacecraft. Musk has over 30 million followers on Twitter, so it’s a shame he didn’t attribute the quotation.
Fern Hill was chosen as one of former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy‘s favourite poems.
Actor Tom Hiddleston recorded a reading of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night for Ximalaya FM.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was read at the memorial service for legendary Welsh sports journalist Ken Jones, who died in September at the age of 87.
Dylan Thomas poems featured in two articles in The Stylist, Farewell poetry and readings to remember loved ones by and 10 beautiful literary quotes to get you excited about autumn
Dylan was name checked in an Instagram post about Sylvia Plath shared by American rock star Courtney Love.
Annual Wreath-Laying Service
The annual wreath-laying service at the Dylan Thomas memorial tablet in Westminster Abbey took place on November 23rd. The event, which is organised by the Dylan Thomas Society and the family of Dylan Thomas, was very well attended, and included readings and songs. Attendees met up later for a celebration at The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia. Dylan’s grandson Charlie performed alongside Guy Masterson, and Dylan’s son-in-law Trefor Ellis perfomed with the Côr y Boro choir. Watch Michael L Roberts recite In My Craft and Sullen Art in the Abbey.
Welsh actor Matthew Rhys talked in a New York Times interview about playing Dylan Thomas, and revealed that he might one day portray him again.
“Dylan Thomas, I tell you what was hard about him. Wales as a nation holds him in an incredibly dear place to its heart, reverential. With him, because it means so much, I kind of look back and go, “I wish I could do it again.” So much so I’m still trying to make another film about Dylan Thomas with a friend. I literally want another crack at it.” (Matthew Rhys)
Sir Salman Rushdie recorded a splendid reading of a Dylan Thomas letter for the Paris Review podcast.
Cerys Matthews recited And Death Shall Have No Dominion at the Western Front Association‘s Armistice Ceremony, and the same poem was included in Remembrance Day poems: 10 poems for the fallen in The Telegraph.
The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea was a winner at the Swansea Bay Tourism Awards. Congratulations to Geoff and his dedicated team at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive.
One of The Telegraph‘s 10 of Britain’s greatest literary breaks featured Dylan Thomas.
Dylan Thomas’s Laugharne featured in an episode of the BBC antiques programme Flog It. Presenter Paul Martin visited the Boathouse and spoke to Arts Coordinator Maggie Jones, before visiting Brown’s Hotel where he talked to poet Mab Jones. Martin described his visit as “one of the best days in my life”.
There were high profile readings from A Child’s Christmas in Wales at three events. Broadcaster Sir Martyn Lewis read the work at Exeter Street Hall in Brighton, actor Tom Hollander read at St Margaret’s, Westminster, for the Singing for Syrians carol service, and actor Greg Wise read for the Carers Trust at St Georges Church, Hanover Square.
American actor and playwright Lin Manuel Miranda, who has recently starred in the BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, tweeted about his memories of reading Under Milk Wood during the filming. Miranda has over 3 million followers on Twitter.
In GQ magazine writer Oliver Bullough chose A Child’s Christmas in Wales as part of Christmas books to get into the festive spirit.
Jeremy Deller’s More Poetry in Needed artwork in Swansea is to be demolished as part of plans to redevelop the city centre. The piece was commissioned for the Dylan Thomas centenary in 2014.
Ysgol Pen-y-Bryn School in Swansea have created a Doctor Who fan film partially set at the Dylan Thomas Birthplace. A young Dylan Thomas makes an appearance, and the film is narrated by former Doctor Who actor Sylvester McCoy.
Ivor the Engine, the cartoon steam engine created by the late Oliver Postgate may be set for a comeback. Postgate, a fan of Dylan Thomas, famously used Under Milk Wood as an inspiration. Postgate’s son Daniel hopes to see a live-action version created.
The novelist, biographer and film-maker Andrew Sinclair had a long association with the life and works of Dylan Thomas. He is perhaps best remembered today as the director of the 1971 big screen adaptation of Under Milk Wood, where he assembled a stellar group of actors including Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O’Toole. The film divided critics but is still regarded by some as the classic Under Milk Wood. Sinclair also adapted Dylan’s unfinished novel Adventures in the Skin Trade for the stage, and a film adaptation was planned although never materialised. He wrote two biographies of Dylan Thomas, and later in life published a memoir Down Under Milk Wood. Sinclair died on May 30th 2019 at the age of 84.
The Laugharne based actor, writer and poet Mark Montinaro was a regular performer of the works of Dylan Thomas. He gave annual performances of A Child’s Christmas in Wales at the Boathouse, and was First Voice in many productions of Under Milk Wood with the Laugharne Players. Much in demand as a performer, he took part in the Dylan Thomas Centenary in 2014 and was a regular participant on International Dylan Thomas Day. A skilled communicator, he worked on the DylanEd educational strand of the International Dylan Thomas Prize. He died on August 2nd 2019 at the age of 59. (Thanks to Matthew Hughes for the image).
The Rhondda born actor Glyn Houston appeared as Mr Pritchard in Sir George Martin’s 1988 production of Under Milk Wood, and as Captain Cat in the 2003 BBC Radio adaptation of the same play. Best known for his television work, he was the younger brother of film actor Donald Houston. He died on June 30th at the age of 93.
Actor, writer and teacher David Ponting performed as Dylan Thomas over 700 times in his one-man show Dylan Thomas, the Man and the Myth. He performed his show on both side of the Atlantic, including at the Hotel Chelsea in New York, and he helped to raise money for the restoration of Dylan’s final home, the Boathouse at Laugharne. He died on November 22nd at the age of 82.
The 6th annual International Dylan Thomas Day will be celebrated on Thursday May 14th. Why not join one of the many events or find your own way to celebrate? The highlight of this year’s celebration will be the award of the 2020 International Dylan Thomas Prize, which will take place at a ceremony at Swansea University.
For other forthcoming events visit the www.discoverdylanthomas.com website.
Andrew Dally – January 2020