Tuesday, 2 March 2010

What Have You Read Since School?

A pretty high percentage of Wales’s population can claim, hands on hearts, that they haven’t picked up a book since they left school. Despite this unenviable fact literature turns out to be one of our great industries. Well, parts of it are. In particular the Dylan Thomas part. As large as the wall of China. The only part of our culture visible from space.

Travel the world, say you are from Wales, and they’ll talk about our Princess, mention Ryan Giggs and then after a bit of face pulling say that magic name: Dylan Thomas. Rarely a season passes without some new rumour circulating (Dylan was Russian spy, Dylan’s drinking was exaggerated, Dylan was related to Napoleon Bonaparte), some new study appearing or a new production created of the master’s works. Under Milk Wood on Ice. A Child’s Christmas on Mars.

Swansea, capital of the West (and the east too, if it had its way), has not been slow to climb on the bandwagon. There are prizes, walking trails and exhibitions all in honour of the city’s greatest son. There is also that legacy of the 1996 Year of Literature: The Dylan Thomas Centre.

Here amid the weddings, council functions, meals out and Blood Donor sessions runs a series of genuine and consistent achievement. Dave Woolley’s Literature Programme. For more than a decade now the Plymouth poet has brought to Swansea the innovative and the significant, mixing local with international and pushing out at the boundaries of just what writing actually is.

Everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Nigel Jenkins and Alison Bielski to Carol Ann Duffy has read here. The spring programme brims. Stevie Davies launches her excellent new novel Into Suez. Carol Rumens is in the bookshop. Fluellen Theatre present Brecht’s Scenes of Fear. The amazing Childe Roland performs the legendary Ham & Jam. The prize-winning poet and Saussurean sausage maker John Goodby does Wine Night White and Michael Kelligan’s season of script in hand performances On The Edge steers itself into women only territory with Don’t Breathe a Word from Susan Richardson. In the Bookshop Dublin poet Maurice Scully starts Humming.

If the events aren’t enough the Centre also runs an engaging series of literary-themed exhibitions. This spring these include the dynamic Merthyr duo Gus Payne (paint) and Mike Jenkins (type) exploring social consciousness, democracy and the powers that make big decisions on our behalf. There are also Lyndon Mably’s drawings made with molten iron and David Greenslade and the late Will Brown’s The Dark Fairground collaboration.

This is a local authority programme (with some financial aid from Academi) and a model for how local government art provision should be. Swansea deserves its accolades. In a recession it represents just the spiritual uplift and cultural thrust that all of us need. Keep on Dylan T.

A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of 27th February, 2010


Eshuneutics said...

"Into Suez", which you mention, is a superb novel.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing the centre to a wider souh wales audience and forcthe mention of my exhibition. I hope you get to see my work before the exhibition closes.
Regards lyndon.