We’re two months away from Dylan Day. A press release has gone out and journalists have marked the date in their diaries, events are being confirmed, (keep checking our Dylan Day page as they are coming in fast and furiously) and the ‘Love the Words’ writing competition for children and young people has been launched. Below I have written a detailed blog attempting to answer a few questions I have been asked. I suspect they may be things others have thought about too.
Why have an International Dylan Thomas Day?
Well, why not? Let’s face it we’ve got a lot to learn from our Irish neighbours who were very quick off the mark after James Joyce’s death in 1941. Thirteen years later they started celebrating Bloomsday and it has got bigger and better each year. Burn’s Night generates in the region of £200m annually to the Scottish economy while England showcase their writers too. Oxford, for example, is proud that it was the inspirational home to many children’s authors and illustrators including: Kenneth Grahame, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Philip Pullman and Lewis Carroll. In fact, each year, Oxford County Council supports Alice’s day. On the 2nd July 2016, there were white rabbit hunts around the city, wonderland walks and an audience with the Queen of Hearts to name just a few of the exciting adventures that were creatively put together.
Why has the date May 14th been chosen?
The date is significant because it was the first time Under Milk Wood was performed with involvement from a cast. There had been a few solo readings, and one with friends, but this was the important one – May 14th 1953 at the 92Y Poetry Center in New York. Some people were keen on the idea of a Milk Wood Day akin to Bloomsday (a day depicted in the novel Ulysses) so having a link to Dylan’s famous play-for-voices seemed apt when decisions were being made.
You may notice that the date correlates with the opening lines of Under Milk Wood, “It is Spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black…”, though for the more cynical of amongst us, you may also have spotted that May marks the start of the tourist season…
Why was October 27th ,Dylan’s birthday, not chosen?
Many may think that this would have been a better choice as is done with Robert Burns. Taking away the consideration of what works well for holiday-makers, another concern with October 27th was that it falls in the Autumn half-term break. As engagement with children and young people was a vital component of the day (well, certainly for me anyway) this was a problem. Unfortunately, we slightly overlooked the fact that May 14th is smack, bang in the middle of testing and exam season and this has, and will, affect involvement from schools.
However, not wanting to be deterred. I hope by launching the writing competition early there will be time for poems to be created during the Easter holidays, or as a relax (not a distraction!) from revision.
Tell us more about the ‘Love the Words Competition.
Young people aged 7-25, from anywhere in the world, are invited to take part. They simply download the opening paragraphs from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, cut up the words, use them to create their own poem, take a photo of it, and then share it with the world on Twitter using the hashtags #LovetheWords and #DylanDay so everyone can see your poem! You can use the same hashtags to find everyone else’s, too.
Cut, create and, most importantly, have fun!
I look forward to choosing some of my favourites to display on this website.
You can find out more and download the pdf here.
Why is the title of the competition ‘Love the Words’.
On May 14th 1953, my grandfather told the Under Milk Wood cast to ‘Love the words, love the words.’ Sadly, he died less than six months later. I am passionate about continuing this message and this competition chimes with my overall vision to help children find ways to bring words alive and to use language to confidently express themselves. I am keen to make literature accessible and to show young people how magical words can be. You can play with them, change them, make them roll off your tongue, mould them to jump off the page or just simply absorb them as you leap inside a book.
Should Dylan Thomas be seen as a role model?
The simple answer to that is yes.
The last few months and years of my grandfather’s life were difficult as he was both physically and mentally ill, and this is the period most people are familiar with as it is what most filmmakers like to focus on. We should acknowledge the tough times and explore them fully to truly understand Dylan Thomas, however we should also remember my grandfather’s achievements during his whole life. By doing this, we will be able to appreciate that he was a talented, hard working and creative individual.
We must recognise that:
- Dylan Thomas produced two thirds of his poetry before the age of 20 and 80% of his work by the time he was 26.
- His writing was varied and included poetry, surreal and autobiographical stories, broadcasts, propaganda films, screenplays, a novel and a play.
- Much of his work is full of the sort of characters we all know, there’s a no-good boyo in everyone’s family! This makes it accessible to a wide audience and has allowed it to become popular in many countries around the world and with many people from different walks of life.
- His early poetry, though not as easy to understand, is equally fascinating as you observe a young teenage boy, furiously experimenting with new ideas and discovering the power of words. You also see a meticulous craftsman.
- Dylan Thomas also found ways to bring poetry and literature to new audiences by performing on what was, at the time, new media, predominantly the radio but also the TV.
- He became well known outside of Wales. He networked in London and conquered America with his electrifying reading tours which drew in audiences of over a thousand people.
Though the early death of my grandfather at just 39 years old is heartbreaking, especially if we wonder what more pieces of writing he could have completed, there is nothing tragic about his life, because Dylan Thomas has left us with a lasting legacy – his beautiful and memorable writing.
So, to confirm, yes I do think that Dylan Thomas should be viewed as a role model!
What is the future for Dylan Day?
On the first Dylan Day in 2015 I went to the Wheatsheaf (the pub where my grandparent’s met) in London. I talked with young people that had recently discovered my grandfather’s work following all the coverage during the centenary year, as well as older people that had rediscovered it. All were equally keen to delve in deeper and learn more. This was my confirmation (if I actually needed one) that there was momentum following DT 100 to have a regular date when we could continue to remember and celebrate Dylan Thomas.
Over the past three years, the Welsh government has funded the day. It’s growing each year, but, it will take time to get it recognised on the international calendar. Sadly, the funding is coming to an end. Without future investment, continuing the day into 2018 and beyond becomes more challenging. It seems a shame Wales does not see the same potential for Dylan Day, especially after people have put in so much work and energy, especially from the co-ordinator Mab Jones and Andrew Dally who has done so much on social media to promote it. We are looking for possible sponsors, funders and pots of money that may be available so please do contact us if you have any ideas or ways you could help.
However, for now, the focus is this year and to make it as big a celebration as possible.
Where can I find out more about the day?
Find out more about Dylan Day and the Love the Words competition by checking out our International Dylan Thomas Day page. We will regularly update it as more events are announced and will display a selection of poems from the Love the Words competition on May 14th.
If you want to put on an event contact Mab Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want us to share details about your event or if you have any questions about the day please contact us via this website.
In summary, an International Dylan Thomas Day gives us a chance each year to celebrate, wholeheartedly, the renowned bard’s achievements and to love the words. Activists and campaigners (see the blog The Women’s March: Raging with Dylan Thomas) are increasingly using the words from the poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, to rage, rage against the dying of their rights. Dylan Thomas wrote this emotional villanelle as he was struggling to communicate how he felt as he watched his much-loved father die. Over sixty-five years later, these perfect lines are giving future generations a ‘voice’ to pass on important messages. I want my grandfather to be recognised as the creator of those famous words and to highlight the popularity of his work across the globe.
Hannah Ellis – 20th March 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.hannahellisconsultancy.com