Poetry of Dylan Thomas: Under the Spelling Wall

Poetry of Dylan Thomas: Under the Spelling Wall

Poetry of Dylan Thomas: Under the Spelling Wall

Poetry of Dylan Thomas: Under the Spelling Wall

Excerpt

I do know that persons… prefer to read about poets than read what those
bleeders write.

—Dylan Thomas

Answers to the question of how the poetry of Dylan Thomas is regarded today are likely to perplex. Among the general reading public, Thomas is one of a small handful of widely recognised modern poets. His Collected Poems have been in print since 1952 and half a dozen or so Thomas poems are still anthology staples. Their popularity is boosted by his best-known work, Under Milk Wood, of course, but his other writings—stories, notebook poems, film scripts, radio plays and letters —have also been published and remain in print. Yet among academics and literary critics, the story is very different. Very little research effort is now expended on Thomas—over the last three decades, more PhDs have been written on those other Thomas-poets, R. S. and Edward—and he barely figures in histories and critical discussions of mid-twentieth century poetry. Although articles on Thomas still appear with some regularity, as the LION database attests, these are invariably traditional and small-scale: thematic, allusion-hunting or close readings, generally of the better-known poems. More ambitious theory-based or more general considerations of Thomas’s place within twentieth-century poetry are very rare. In poetry journals and among broadsheet reviews of poetry, the situation is much the same, and, although calls for a re-valuation of his poetry occur with some regularity, these never seem to materialise. All of which suggests that Thomas is a kind of embarrassment on just about every level of the mainstream poetry world. His work is powerful and won’t fade away, and it appears that something needs to be said about it; but, for some reason, it cannot be made to fit the standard narratives and so nothing gets done. That Thomas doesn’t seem to influence later poets is often taken as justifying the lack of attention . . .

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