Readings are a stock part of the poet’s trade. They are today, in the literate twenty-first , although I’m sure some can remember when they were not. Poets are better on their feet than they once were. They look audiences in the eye. They’ve learned not mumble. Down at the Swansea Grand Theatre from where I’ve just come the Dylanthon has been in progress. This was an off the wall idea dreamt up by producer Michael Bogdanov and Dylan Thomas expert Jeff Townes. Why not put on a reading of everything DT wrote? The lot. Poems, stories, letters, stumbles. It would take about 36 hours to do straight through. We could charge £150 a ticket for a show that long.
If I’d been asked I would have said that getting Leanne Wood invited round to sing for HMQ would have been an easier prospect.
The event Bogdanov mounted a triumph. A well-attended, very well organised professional performance at a comfortable, central Swansea venue featuring a cast of several score performers many of whom were extremely famous. Who else could have got Jo Brand, Nicholas Parsons, Katherine Jenkins, Dai Smith, The President of the Republic of Ireland, Jonathan Pryce and Ian McKellen onto the same bill and without paying any of them anything?
My slot was on the Sunday morning, right at the beginning when most people were still home reading the Sunday papers and eating toast. But even at that time Bogdanov had managed to fill the theatre. Punters were allowed to buy slightly cheaper tickets for selected three hour slots. The programme flickered between poetry and prose. On stage were a stream of TV personalities, actors, singers, a very few writers, plus the occasional MBE and politician. It also included a range of school choirs who attracted their otherwise not that interested in DT parents and grandparents to the audience. Tickets flew out the box office.
The readings began to roll. Where I was at the beginning they were heavily weighted with selections from the often impenetrable mouth music of 18 Poems . I went on four times. I was bracketed by Lisa Rogers, Lucy Owen, Rakie Ayola sitting resplendent in a leather armchair and reading a slice from a short story, The Flight, and Tony Lewis CBE, who doesn’t normally do this kind of thing, clearly, but made a decent stab. I did I see the boys of summer in their ruin and then The force that through the green fuse drives the flower. The words tumbled into the air and frothed all around me. I didn’t own them.
When I got to When Once The twilight locks, my last presentation and so far faultlessly, I made the mistake of thinking briefly about something else as I was actually reading. Fatal. I did this on the penultimate line and, of course, stumbled. Not to be defeated I repeated the word then added a few more of my own to give it resonance. Dylan Thomas aided, as Marcel Duchamp might have said. Did anyone notice? No.
As a reading the whole deal was as professional as it could be. You got a dressing room with your name on it. A runner to bring you rolls, coffee, pies, etc., a fresh bath towel, a piece of scented Welsh soap, and a basket of fruit. What is more the audience appeared actually to be enjoying the whole affair. In the style of those sixties art happenings where you all sat for eight hours watching a man holding a lit candle elements of Zen came into play. Poetry was first exciting, then it was boring, and then eventually it returned full of vigour, thrill and excitement. Just as it should.
Up the hill afterwards at the Do Not Go gentle Festival presented at the Dylan Thomas birthplace. 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. Here, among the drizzle and the falling leaves and the freshly repainted windows, I read again. This was the new Nia Davies Poetry Wales experimental issue launch. I did a reprise of my Altarwise by Owl Light mashup created for Radio Three, told a few stories and then did some Dylanesque sound pieces. The house was packed right up the stairs. Poetry certainly rocks in Swansea.