The final days: residency at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse

25 10 2016

The Boathouse crowds eddied in the bright light all week.  As the weather calmed and the sun visited more generously, tourists to Laugharne sat by the wide bay for longer and longer.  On one welcoming day, a pair of dog-walkers and their muddy corgi,  arrived when the River Taf was heavy in the estuary and left when it was barely visible; we’d spent much of the afternoon in the Thomas’ yard together.

Commonly, visitors would arrive like the garden’s resident robin, flying down in fleeting sortees and disappearing just as anonymously.  Some came in passing flocks, such as the affable murmuration from University of Wales Trinity St Davids, staying to pick at Welsh teas, to share scones, to warm their wings.  They spoke in a vibrant rabble of Mandarin, French, Canadian and the yard seemed hushed and dusky when they’d flown away.  And others were regular migrants, visiting the Writing Shed and the Boathouse on an annual, or more frequent pilgrimage.  

The writer and poet John Bilsborough came to collect some books from his residency the week before.  He showed me the stunning collection of writers’ names and messages he’d gathered in his career journal: R.S. Thomas; Victoria Wood; John Betjemen.  Another artist to visit was the seascape painter Gareth Hugh Davies, who brought his family of illustrators for lunch.  All indulged the drawing challenge with their unique styles, Gareth’s daughter indulged me with her sketchbook which was flawlessly assembled and carefully beautiful.  

While other guests were noteworthy for their energy and vigour, such as a rare pair of articulate children from Penrith who produced the most-savage of sea imagery.

And memorable for their charisma, as a poetess and her husband who drew and drew and drew and shared their literature passions as though we were long friends. 

 

After work one day, I visited Newport and read at The Lonely Crowd launch evening.  Heavy roadworks choked the journey there, and the M4 on the drive home felt as long as a continent.  Though the few hours spent in the Murenger were more stimulating and satisfying that I could have gleefully anticipated.  Hosted by John Lavin, readings from Tony Curtis, Carla Manfredino, Alix Nathan, John Freeman, Craig Austin, Rebecca Lawn formed a collage illustrating just how intriguing the literature scene is in South Wales currently.  Chris Cornwell read his ‘Last Night Down Whetstone Road’ in a voice glossy with Dylan’s aesthetic verve for phonetics, Gary Raymond read a story about immigration and fear and stereotype, and veiled pertinent satire around wonderful, characters such as the tale’s ubiquitous Ellis.       

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Ordinarily, on a Friday afternoon, I’d be stood in Ysgol Pen-y-Bryn’s assembly hall, watching certificates be awarded to inspired learners.  On this occasion, they were watching the boathouse and writing shed through my eyes.  Or, more precisely, through a FaceTime connection.  The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Raynor, was in attendance at the school, together with a local MP, and they observed the whole school attempt a modern twist on a Dylan Thomas poem:  ‘Have you Ever Seen Half Term

On the weekend, my wife arrived with my son and we took the work from the week along Dylan’s route about Sir John’s Hill.  While retreading ‘The Birthday Walk’, she helped me film a video compilation of illustrations, my son made atmospheric leaf rustling effects and lingered precariously on steep images.

On one afternoon, when Dylan’s door was leaned shut, two ladies from the boathouse improvised a reading from my poem ‘Caitlin’, in response to Dylan’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ and I filmed it to store for when my debut collection, ‘Conversations’, is published next year.  Or for when Judith or Elen achieve fame in their respective fields of ceramics and translation.  Back at ‘The Pelican’, housing and feeding me until I began to bloat and sprout tight curls of hair, I was given lessons on sculpture and whisky by the artist David Gunther.

And yesterday, I drove my family home.  Home.  Up the serpentine Aberystywth Road.  My son was poorly as we passed Dolgellau, poorly as we approached Machynlleth, as though he was already enduring withdrawal symptoms from his brief time in Laugharne.  Reflecting back today, I too feel a stab homesick for a place that had become so welcoming to me.  

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Touch and Go: Dylan Thomas in Montgomery (15/16th November)

12 11 2014

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Dylan Thomas’ writing shed

18 08 2014

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Dylan Thomas’ writing shed snuggled into place on Conwy’s quayside, it looked like it had grown on the wharf naturally. The Liverpool Arms, pouring into the view from his open curtained windows, seemed as though it was musty with tales of Thomas’ games of cats and dogs, of Caitlin, of Vernon Watkins, bruised bottles, and of words worming.

I settled into the wicker chair and tried to write nine poems. In twelve minutes. The queue for the ‘Sunday takeaway’ hadn’t abated and the clothes line, full of thematic requests varying from Whales to Wales, had begun to sag slightly. I wrote, trying not to move anything on the desk, trying to move myself from any tourists’ photograph, trying to look a little at Thomas’ gallery of faces, his lists of assonance, trying, trying.

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And when I had conquered the orders and the glutinous diners were licking the bones of my briefest verse, I hastened off to read a selection of nature poems in the Guild Hall. Between Wales’ Children’s Laureate, Martin Daws, and its Poet Laureate, Gillian Clarke, my poems felt rushed and riddled and the hour was longer than it seemed. But the room was full and the audience was kind enough to smile when they were supposed to, frown when I prompted to. And all the books I took were gone when I left.

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The day before, a string of wonderful writers collected words from Conwy’s web of walls and we amassed poems from the produce. Hinton’s bookshop provided their cloister for the task, their kettle for the process.

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In the evening David Crystal enchanted an audience on the ‘100 words that made English’ and spoke of the reasons why ‘roe deer’ was a crucial to the language as ‘thingy’ and ‘dooberry’ and ‘Twittersphere’.

The highlight? A Spanish couple who arrived to Dylan’s shed and, instead of taking a poem, took away a request for one. I gave them the catalyst ‘charity’ and they gave me back ‘A Toast for Glyn’. Inside the poem were the lines, ‘now, he’s the host of Thomas’ ghost’ and, for that sentiment alone, thank you.