reassessing dylan thomas

B-millsBilly Mills at The Dublin Review:

There is a well-established Dylan Thomas myth that goes something like this: early brilliance as an instinctive versifier drunk on words, which was then wasted through more conventional drunkenness, redeemed somewhat by the glamour associated with an early death. Thomas both recognised and helped fuel it by his ironic self-description as the “Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive”. The myth fed into the centenary celebrations of his birth last year, which became a kind of year-long Bloomsday, a celebration more of Thomas the character than Thomas the obscure, often difficult, experimental poet.

Thomas’s public reputation rests mainly on the enduring popularity of Under Milk Wood, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and a handful of anthology-piece poems. His critical reputation, such as it is, is that of a somewhat marginal figure who was overshadowed in his youth by Auden and the New Country poets and then dismissed after his premature death by the Movement. Indeed, such is the legacy of this dismissal that he is now often bracketed with the poets of the “dismal 40s”, despite the fact that the bulk of his poems were written and published in the 1930s.

However, centenaries can also be occasions for reappraisal, a time when texts are republished and critically re-examined in the light of current scholarship. In the case of Thomas, the most significant act of rediscovery was the publication of this New Centenary Edition of the collected poems, the most comprehensive of the four collecteds to appear to date, and the first since 1988.

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