I have put together some of my favourite events from 2017 and have looked back at how Dylan’s places have honoured him. I also remember people we have lost and those who continue to do great work promoting Dylan Thomas. You can find out more information at Dylan Thomas News and on the Events and News page on this website but here are a few of my highlights.
- Dylan’s work was still alive and kicking in 2017
2017 reminded us once again that Dylan Thomas’s work is still as popular as ever.
- The worldwide women’s marches against Donald Trump’s inauguration in January and an inclusion of a poem in an educational pack for ‘Words That Burn’ – an Amnesty International and Poetry Hour project – explored and expressed human rights through poetry. The powerful lines “Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light” gave suppressed groups access to words that allowed them to have a voice.
- Audiences continued to “Love the words” from Under Milk Wood. Guy Masterson once again wowed audiences with his brilliant one-man show while Martin Oelbermann and Chris Riddell did an unusual, yet effective, two man performance that combined visuals with the spoken word. Seimon Pugh Jones exhibited his excellent portraits of the characters of Llareggub and hopes to paint more in the coming year. New groups discovered the play including a community undertaking in Patagonia and students from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. The students (now qualified actors) got a rapturous applause after their superb reading at the Wheatsheaf in London following the wreath laying at Westminster Abbey. I was also fortunate enough to judge a Dylan Day writing competition where children and young people adapted Under Milk Wood’s prologue to produce some of their own fantastic poems.
- Other work on display this year included Dylan’s broadcast The Festival Exhibition that was used in a crowdfunding campaign by Historic England to restore a concrete sculpture which had been left to languish in a hotel garden. The One Show brought the poem The Hunchback in the Park to audiences attention through a strong reading by Arthur Smith, as well as including a feature about a intricately made pop up book of A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Click above to see the One Show episode this was featured in. Available until 11th January 2018.
- Much of Dylan’s work remains in print and there have been new additions added this year. The Poems of Dylan Thomas edited by John Goodby was released by New Directions in America, as well as a new version of A Child’s Christmas in Wales. John Goodby also launched Discovering Dylan Thomas: A Companion to the Collected Poems and Notebook Poems published by University of Wales Press, which gives further insight into Dylan’s meticulous approach to his poetry. Finally, Orion re-released Dylan’s letters in two volumes and these are a valuable resource in understanding the man behind the words.
2) Dylan’s Places honour him in 2017
- The annual Laugharne weekend in April was once more a huge success with beautiful unseasonably warm weather combined with shows involving talented musicians, writers, artists and comedians. It still carries on having the vision of being a festival “Dylan would have liked to attend.” Tickets are now available for 2018.
- A new festival started in Llansteffan, the village across the estuary from Laugharne. It can be seen through the windows of Dylan’s writing shed. One memorable event was a bus tour to discover the hidden literary secrets of the Llansteffan Peninsula and included a rare visit to the courtyard of Fernhill.
- Swansea was thriving with activity. The university announced Fiona McFarlane as the winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize for young writers in May and when Hillary Clinton visited later in the year she did not leave empty handed. She had a pile of the shortlisted books to read during her plane ride home. The Dylan Thomas Centre was a shortlisted museum in the annual Family Friendly Museum Awards and the Do Not Go Gentle Festival relocated from the Uplands to the town centre for another successful year.
- Finally, I would like to give a special mention to the Wheatsheaf pub in London. It was the place where my grandfather spent time with his literary friends and met my grandmother in 1936. They have opened their doors all through the year to Dylan fans for visits, talks, shows and get togethers. In particular, they welcomed, fed and watered Dylan Thomas’s family and society after the wreath laying service at Westminster Abbey.
3) People we remembered and celebrated in 2017
It was with deep sadness that I heard about the death of the theatre director Michael Bogdanov. He was a huge Dylan Thomas fan and had his own vast collection of memorabilia. Michael worked tirelessely to promote my grandfather’s poetry and stories and I remember in particular his delightfully charming musical version of A Child’s Christmas in Wales and his Dylanathon ectravaganza that he and others put together for Dylan Thomas 100. I’ll remember him fondly for his positivity, boundless energy and kindness.
We also lost Wales’s first minister, Rhodri Morgan, in 2017. His enthusiasm for my grandfather’s work was infectious and he happily took on the role of patron of Dylan Thomas 100. I had the pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions and he was exceptionally warm and had a wonderful knack of making me feel very special. It seems only fitting that Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was read at his funeral.
2017 marked fifty years since Vernon Watkin’s, my grandfather’s great friend, death. He was another incredible poet who was taken away from us much too soon. The support and love he gave Dylan Thomas cannot be underestimated. Dylan’s letters to Vernon demonstrate admiration and respect for a dear friend.
Jeff Towns has been an advocate for Dylan Thomas for years and years – before it was popular I think he’d say. He has also been a strong ambassador for Swansea. Both were recognised this year when Jeff received an honorary degree from Swansea University. A well deserved and long over due accolade for all his hard work. Congratulations Jeff!
Many of you may not know who Charlie Jackson is. He is, in fact, my gorgeous son. The reason I want to give him a special mention this year, apart from being the wonderful and kind-hearted boy he is, was his amazing readings at Westminster Abbey as part of the annual Dylan Thomas wreath laying service in Poet’s Corner. Charlie may only be eight but he wrote two fabulous poems, Happiness is and The Moonless Night that he performed brilliantly in front of a large audience. He may not realise what a truly great achievement it was but all the family do. I proudly display his poems below. Well done Charlie!
The Moonless Night by Charlie Jackson
‘Happiness is …’ by Charlie Jackson
Happiness is sunshine yellow, a pure brightness,
Healing the cold inside,
Taking away the memory of it all.
Happiness is refreshing ice in my brain,
It tastes amazing, tickles my throat,
And makes me confident again.
Happiness is eating Christmas dinner with my family,
Sizzling sausages, terrific turkey, super salmon and reliable roast potatoes,
Happiness is being on the highest peak there is,
And seeing the whole of the world,
With birds singing as my company – thinking about my future and past.
Happiness is a cool breeze on a huge African plain,
A lion sitting proudly, cheeky cubs rushing around,
A delighted freedom.
Everything in this poem is my happiness.
Hannah Ellis – 28th December 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.lovethewords.co.uk