Poet in Residence – Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed – Chester Literature Festival

13 10 2014

The one way system to the city’s traffic had tide changed. There was a new estate in the street I had expected to park my car in.  Chester had been building in the six years since I’d left it and my walk to Dylan’s writing shed was diverted by streets newly formed and structures newly thriving.

In the centre, however, the city remained similar: same pubs, The Red Lion (where I will forever remember watching Liverpool’s fortnightly Champions League melodrama simmer as surprisingly as any Dickens’ potboiler), same squares of grass (the Cathedral cricket strip that I watched fallen catches break like birds’ eggs, then clutched a fizzing ball on the boundary in the gloom), the slightly squalid Town Hall square (that my girlfriend of a decade, in the middle of Christmas Markets, let me leave our lonely love behind).

It was exhilarating to step in the Writing shed again, to sit in the sagging wicker chair and look up at the portraits of Brooke, Lawrence and Dylan himself.  It was a relief to be away from my nostalgia and enter somebody else’s.

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The first gentleman who asked for a poem declared, ‘I’m not a great lover of poetry, music is the new verse’ and, thus, verbatim, I wrote down the opening lines of a piece which tracked the calm cadence of his voice and compared him, albeit kindly, to sheepdog and candle smoke.  He took his poem like a medicine, wincing, then swallowing the concept whole.

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The next couple, watch checking restlessly, requested a poem for their forty-fourth anniversary.  They told me that, four years before, they had celebrated their Ruby Anniversary but this one was one for a dinner, calm, the afternoon, a walk on the walls.  I don’t think they came back to claim it.

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And the afternoon strode on and I was quickly left clutching a pad of bespoke poems that had nothing but titles.  I wrote one about a local charity, one about the journey on the A55, one about poetry, one about a woman’s wonderful neologism, one about pens, one about pain, one about, one about, one about.

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When it began raining the crowds huddled away and I held on to a stack of orders.  But instead of filling them out, I contrasted the swollen, pencil point-eyed poet from the Collected Stories I was using to lean on, with the one in the Augustus John painting above the shed window.  I wrote for a minute and cursed him his infinite flaws.

The final poem I hung to the washing line was for the festival organiser, who asked for something to remind her of a Bucket List success in Moorish Spain and the watercolours it had stirred in her.  The poems I have still to produce are for a creative writing student from the local university, for a kind fellow of the festival who gave me the compelling catalyst ‘hedgehogs’ and for the two people who have rolled the Writing Shed both around their imaginations and the country for the past year.

So, when I left and followed my footsteps back to the car, I tried to think of how I write something that would do more than acknowledge the efforts of the last pair, something instead that could crown their commitments.  Something that will aptly say thank you to them for taking Dylan Thomas to schools and imaginations, something that will thank them for bringing him back to me.

Somewhere damp, burrowed under the crimsoned leaves of Aumtum, I’ll find the right words searching for worms and tease them out into the weak winter sun.

In a fortnight, when we will fill the space again at the Touch and Go: Dylan Thomas in Montgomery event in Mid-Wales, I will begin by pinning up these poems.

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