DYLAN THOMAS IN MELBOURNE, 2013-2014
LLOYD & THOMAS AT HOLY TRINITY
On outset (see how I avoid 'get go') Robert Lloyd excuses his representation of Dylan Thomas from the "academic", by which one understands he wont be critically analysing the poetry but intersecting with it as an enthusiast. No slight at all to call Robert Lloyd a fan, after all he recognises Thomas as first pop-star, fore-runner of British Invasion, taking New York a decade before the Beatles. And it's true --Thomas's concerts were sell-outs --and at the end the poets of the day kept his hospital room pretty busy too…
Robert Lloyd has listened to the recordings, read all the biographies, seen all the movies, and made his Welsh & NYC pilgrimages. Personality, therefore --charisma, reputation, image, legend, & all fulfilled as myth -- defines this Dylan Thomas. One thing the academic approach doesn't do is elevate the artist above the work. For example, "the kinds of things artists have to do to survive" (RL) neither here nor there when the composition is the only essential. Except that in our age, where biography is the most popular form of history (as history itself collapses into a continuous present), familiarity & personal identification are imperative as the virtual reality is achieved. "At his best between the third & eighth drinks", according to the Richard Burton anecdote RL quotes, indicates for him the liberated tongue, delighting in word play, performing the self, as it were, amid social cacophony, the broth & froth of the everyday. All of which one can go along with given that the Thomas oeuvre, in verse & prose, original & interpretive, has long been absorbed.
"For many people these days poetry is song lyrics" is Robert Lloyd's grafting of the other Dylan & Mr Cohen & Nick Cave, Lou Reed, John Cale et al, to the body poetic, which nicely begs the question. I remember exemplary practitioner of poetry as art, John Tranter, saying as much over the radio years ago in response to the habitual question that assumes poetry's decay if not disappearance. It's alive & well (as popular form) in rock & pop lyrics, he said. He may have mentioned rap but needn't for the point to be made. Which isn't at all to posit equivalence but, in my mind, to imply the multiplicity of poetry, poetry in all of its genres, as complex ecriture & instantly available song, & all points in between.
Instructive when Lloyd described the difficulty of setting Dylan Thomas when, necessarily, the poem's formal scheme collides with the form the composer/musician is constructing for it. That tricky shit (as RL would say), & I'd contend, and probably for the benefit of poetry virgins, is at least as important as the verities of the drunken poet. Scholarly diligence & critical insight cannot be mutually exclusive of the ecstatic. With Thomas, language playfulness & profound thought & emotion co-inhere.
No review of the Holy Trinity gig this jumping out-take, which would would otherwise include description of the vaulting that a cello (Adi Sapir Cohen's) creates about a guitar, filling the sails of the songs --it's simply the after-taste of that Saturday late morning in East Melbourne, at the church's anniversary arts festival, celebrating Dylan Thomas, as one trammed happily back to the commerce of the City.
As native as a nearly five decades Melburnian endows, and to that extent aware of Australian anniversaries including Collected Works Bookshop's 30 years or the La Mama Poets' Workshop's 46th (--the original La Mama one must stress, which isn't to detract from La Mama Poetica which the late Mal Morgan inaugurated in 1985 after Val Kirwan's short-lived attempt earlier in the '80s to re-establish the September '68 incarnation --and Poetica is still going) --one's more than happy to leave mainstream majors to the official calendar, --the Henry Lawson, for example, now in Tony Lambides' hands --Ken Trimble part of that too?-- while rising to the fanfare (pun intended) of Dylan Thomas's centenary which enjoyed three previews all involving Robert Lloyd, plus the Melbourne Writers Festival's own session, before the official date of October 27th '14 was reached, unleashing the world-wide centenary celebration…
Happy memories persist from last year's event (the Dylan Thomas [99th] Birthday Celebration) at Collected Works Bookshop, led by Robert Lloyd & myself, --the programme comprising R L's song-settings of Thomas poems, play (Caroline Williamson, John Flaus, Patrick Boyle memorably reading from Under Milkwood), and poetry & commentary featuring Ray Liversidge, George Genovese, Ken Trimble, Valli Poole, Michael Reynolds, Earl Livings… Add to this Lloyd's presentation of Dylan Thomas at Holy Trinity's arts festival on August 16th, accompanied by Adi Sappir Cohen who brought her sublime cello to the show, and once again at the World Poetry gig at Federation Square a week ahead of the birthday. World Poetry's run these days by Dimitris Trioditis in the wake of founder Lella Carridi's coordination. Quite a detonation to hear the Greek translations of Dylan Thomas which Trioditis rattled off at the conclusion of the Lloyd/Sapir set, and definitely needed if only to offset the rising clamour from the bar below's amplified muzak!
Two small Melbourne publications have been the direct product of the original event and all the talk around it. Shall God Be Said To Thump The Clouds : Poets Celebrate Dylan Thomas, is published by Valli Poole with her Blank Rune Press, & sports a great cover portrait by Karl Gallagher of the tousle-haired boyo, cigarette held spivilly between sensual lips. It features American poets Alexis Rhone Fancher, Bryn Fortey & Catfish McDaris, and locals Gallagher, Poole & Ben John Smith. There's also Ken Trimble's The Ghost To His Green : A Tribute to Dylan Thomas, published by Christine Mathieu's Little Fox Press, which was spoken of as a Blank Rune Press chapbook until a classic change of plan (ah, poets). Significantly, the covers of both books disport with green, befitting the age's greenest poet. Who could forget Thomas's poignant double edge : "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees / Is my destroyer." If not for its Red Dragon, Wales would be green all over too.
The thirteen poems of The Ghost To His Green are elegiac transpositions of Ken Trimble's life upon Thomas's --in October Children for example, "We are / October children / yet as different and distant as Mercury's sun / and those visits though not Fernhill were filled / with innocence now / gone". It's a passionate identification with another of his exemplary poets, just as the Beats have been in his reading & roaming life. Thomas is the figure which the biography's cut for him, amplifying the famous poems. In this regard not unlike Robert Lloyd & the poets of the Blank Rune anthology, intersecting & interacting first & foremost with the legend. In Valli Poole's & several of her contributors' cases, Caitlin has joint billing. Irrelevant to poetry, which is Dylan's first to last, but everything to do with a feminist rebalancing of the history book. No doubting the document of Caitlin's story, so what's important is the quality of the particular prism --who or what distinguishes the biography or poetry when the tag of this time is the 'bright star'.
Robert Lloyd's poignant & amusing description of his journey to Dylan Thomas country, is, for mine, always part of an attempt to redeem true poetry & feeling from the show-biz & commerce in the poet's name. Yet I have a measure of 'why not?' even to that aspect now. Springing James Joyce from Bloomsday, similarly, has its point, yet this is the age of elitist & popular culture's convergence. Postmodernism anyone? 'Here Comes Everybody'? So why not enjoy the best of both worlds and accept the versions not as trivializations but as enlightening riffs & translations as happens with the great Indian classics and wherever in the world poetry appears at the heart of the culture.
Robert Lloyd is a storyteller for whom even the day's doings are potentially edged with mystery if not the mystical (--remember Robert Kenny's memorable lines, "Everything mystiqual, enveloped by a lovely intelligence / that seduces the rigmarole of the hours" , from his 'Poem' (Poem in inverted Commas), 1975)… Chutzpah & charm is endearing and practice makes perfect but simplest to say that Robert Lloyd addresses the audience not as a poet with a guitar or a guitarist with his poems but as a performer of the poems & songs of his personal Dylan Thomas journey. Allegories, parables, revelations along the way, all along this green year…