Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Somerville Poet Ifeanyi Menkiti Hosts Poet Aeronwy Thomas: Dylan Thomas’ Daughter

Dylan Thomas

Aeronwy Thomas

Somerville Poet Ifeanyi Menkiti Hosts Poet Aeronwy Thomas: Dylan Thomas’ Daughter

I found myself on a cool evening in April walking to Dunkin Donuts in Harvard Square with Aeronwy Thomas, daughter of the late great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Aeronwy Thomas, a well-regarded educator and poet in her own right, is on a national tour talking about her father Dylan, who wrote some of the most revered verse in the 20th Century, as well as a critically acclaimed play “Under Milk Wood.”

Somerville resident, Wellesley College professor, and owner of the famed Grolier Poetry Book Shop, Ifeanyi Menkiti hosted a reading with Aeronwy Thomas, her husband Trevor Ellis, and Peter Thabit Jones, a respected Welsh poet and editor of the Seventh Quarry Magazine Magazine. I asked Menkiti why he decided to host this event organized by publisher Stanley Barkan of Cross - Cultural Communications. Menkiti said:” I Love Dylan Thomas’
sense of community. His work releases a poetic impulse across the world. It travels across borders. In the publication “Wellesley Week” Menkiti adds: “ Whether one reads his poems alone, by oneself, or hears them read aloud by him or others, or perhaps hears read aloud the captivating words of “ A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” one always comes away with a sense of ineffable magic in the air—a sense that words are potent things.”

Dylan Thomas (who died at 39 in 1953) first gained significant praise for his poetry collection: “ 18 Poems” He is also well-known for his poem to his dying father “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” as well as many other works. He died in New York City at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village from suspected chronic alcohol poisoning.

Thomas’ Daughter Aeronwy first read the poems of her famous father 20 years after his death in 1973. She was sheltered from his “wild public” lifestyle. Now she is the midst of a whirlwind national tour: “Dylan Thomas Tribute,” where she and Jones read from Thomas’ poetry, their own poetry, and discuss Thomas’ body of work and his life.

The evening started out on Plympton Street in Harvard Square at the Grolier, but the actual reading took place at Harvard’s Adams House several doors down the block. In addition to the reading by Jones and Thomas, Tino Villanueva, Aldo Tambellini, Kristine Doll, Pavel Grushko, and Aled Llion Jones read translations of Dylan Thomas’ work.

Jones' read a poem of his own during the evening that concerned of all things: a rat: (Rats do make appearences in Dylan's work as well.)

“Rats swam the canal of my childhood fears…/ a rat’s meal is my thought/ it eats in my sleep.”

Aeronwy Thomas read her own poem that harked back to her childhood memories of the great poet titled: “Later Than Laugharne:”

“…The memories race back—
… And the thrill of peeping through
the keyhole (I was always the most naughty)
to see my father writing his poems about
gulls, hills, cormorants on estuaries
which he saw through his wide-vista window,
as he sat, bent, writing in crabbed letters,
pressing against the hard surface of the
kitchen table that was his desk…”

Aeronwy’s husband Trevor sang traditional Welsh folksongs that were a welcomed addition to the reading.

After the event I managed to interview Thomas about her late father. As for Dylan Thomas’ ill-fated love affair with alcohol, Aeronwy said his trips to the United States did him no good. When he was in his native Wales he was surrounded by family and friends and drank the weak beer of the local pubs. He wrote in his “shed” every day. In the United States he was offered hard liquor like whiskey and Martinis, etc… He was unmoored, away from home and structure, and this lead to his downfall.

As far as Bob Dylan, who lifted Dylan Thomas’ first name for his last, Aeronwy Thomas admires his song lyrics. But she did say that Bob Dylan did admit to lifting Thomas’ name, but now he states that he has done more for Thomas than Thomas did for him.

I asked Thomas about the movie adaptation of “Under Milk Wood” that starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. She said that she was grateful someone made a movie of her father’s play. She feels Burton was a classic narrator. She did have some reservations about what she characterized as “additions” to the work, but overall she was happy with the movie.

The evening ended with a small wine and cheese buffet. Thomas signed books and was surrounded by admirers and well wishers. After this long evening no one would blame Aeronwy Thomas if she did “go gently into that good night” to get a well-earned sleep.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

_-- Dylan Thomas

1 comment:

  1. As always, a very fine piece by Doug Holder; pleased to re-read it today!