By Andy Mitchell
Poetry Group stalwart, Robert Seufert, professor emeritus of English at MacMurray College recently directed Under Milk Wood at the Playhouse on the Square. Originally commissioned by the BBC as a radio play, UMW tells the story of a fictional fishing village on the south coast of Wales. Written by the (in)famous Welshman, Dylan Thomas, its dialogue is alive with the vim, vigor, and linguistic virtuosity recognizable to anyone familiar with the great poet.
But my mate, Robert, fears that some people these days might not be familiar with Swansea’s favorite son. So he asked if I could write a little something about the man he knows to be my favorite poet, familiarize the uninitiated with his legend. For that he was, a legend, and in his own brief lifetime.
Perhaps known as much for his epic benders as for his lyric force, the original Dylan – long before that imposter came blowin’ in the wind – took the American academy by storm in the early 1950’s, touring colleges across the country, wowing packed auditoriums with grave baritone renderings of his and others’ poems, between which he regaled rapt houses with mock anecdotes of searing humor, sparing least himself. But he was never at home on a campus. Somewhat allergic to ivy, he itched for the nearest bar, where, invariably he’d end up one night with a “coed,” and the next with the dean’s wife.
Between gigs he stayed either at the Chelsea Hotel in New York or his friend’s home in Connecticut. John Malcolm Brinnin, head of the 92nd St. Y (famous for hosting literary events), not only sponsored and befriended Thomas on his stateside visits, but served as caretaker as well. Drunk off and on all hours of the day and night, loveable Dylan tried the patience of anyone who knew him beyond the barstool. Holding court at the White Horse Tavern in New York, he alternately charmed and horrified those who entered his realm. Regardless, no one ever forgot him. So to think that the present generation quite possibly has forgotten this charming man, horrifies me. Well, saddens me at any rate.
And not just for the sake of his reputation as a bard’s bard, a rock star in rumpled tweeds holding a pint. But for the words, the lines, the intellectual music – the poetry. Some so-called poets write so-called poems: esoteric offerings to scholarship. While real poets write real poems, pandering only to their own gnawed pen. Update that to a pounded keypad. No matter. In either case real poetry rises from the page, the way the poems of Dylan Thomas did. And still do. If not for his myth, then for all the brilliant lines he left behind, do not let this man’s name go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of his light.