THE BLOG

On Anglo-Welsh Identity and Dylan Thomas

14/10/2014 13:24 BST | Updated 13/12/2014 10:59 GMT

In writing about Welsh identity, you're writing amidst almost 2000 years of tradition and culture: not an easy task. Let me focus on the Anglo-Welsh literary tradition, then.

Simply put: Anglo-Welsh literature is writing, written in English, by Welsh writers.

We have had, will always have, a great bardic tradition in Wales - R.S. Thomas is perhaps the best well-known Anglo-Welsh poet - and this tradition continues in contemporary Anglo-Welsh poetry: Dannie Abse, recently deceased but still strong in memory and word; Robert Minhinnick, a subtle scientist of language who creates crackling beauty in every stanza; and - of course - our Poet Laureate for Wales, Gillian Clarke, are some names you may recognize. There are many more.

I had the good fortune to work with Dannie Abse once. My thoughts are with his family. Though he was not of my generation, he profoundly affected it.

We're currently living in a heady time for Anglo-Welsh prose and non-fiction writing too. Writers like Rachel Trezise, Rhian E Jones, and Cynan Jones are redefining what Anglo-Welsh writing is. These three examples alone run the gamut of urban life, sociological critique, and country life respectively but all have one thing in common: roots.

Over the past few years I've had the good fortune to write for the Welsh National Opera, have a book published, and write for the creation of pervasive media experiences; I wrote of contemporary Wrexham life for WNO, I wrote of the immigrant Londoner experience under a Conservative government for my book Purefinder, and I wrote of revolution for pervasive media games by Splash & Ripple and Yello Brick.

My current production is about one of Wales' writers - to some, the quintessential Anglo-Welsh writer: Dylan Thomas.

Now before your teenage self pipes up and you, in turn, shoot them down, consider this: do you truly know the man and his work? Can any of us truly think we knew the man? Could any of his contemporaries?

Some think we can equate that identity with the romantic, bardic identity they suppose Dylan Thomas to have but his early works read like a bullet train of Modernism as it '...blasts the trees...' of language; his mid-period works are focused, studied, and often experimental; his final, great work - Under Milk Wood - had the ears and eyes of old Wales' characters, muck and all. Even these three simple divisions show how diverse a writer he was.

This year's BBC production, A Poet in New York, felt like a sentimental backwash of Titanic proportions; the recent BBC Wales remake of Under Milk Wood also fell unfortunately short, so short that one Twitter commentator quipped it felt like an advert for Welsh lamb. You might think this scathing but it's necessary - Flannery O'Connor said, 'An identity is not to be found on the surface.'

We must dig for identity. Dig and critique, without it we can't get to the root of things. A relatively new online magazine, Wales Arts Review, is digging and currently has a crowdfunding campaign to let it dig further. I've chipped in, maybe you can too. There are a great many fascinating Anglo-Welsh journals regularly publishing new work and critique: New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Planet Magazine, and there are more. Planet Magazine's advert for issue 215 even jokes about "...another article on Dylan Thomas?!" This is because 2014 is Dylan's year.

Our production about Dylan Thomas, Bedazzled - A Welshman in New York, focuses on his relationship with America but in doing so, critiques his reception all over the world and his reception of his self. We're giving you the opportunity to drink with Dylan: the set is a purpose-built, working bar and there'll be plenty of time around and during the acting to get a drink. We encourage it. We think he would have too. This fluidity was a part of his identity.

Anglo-Welsh writers' identities, then: it isn't in the romantic, bardic, Eisteddfod tradition, though that's integral and interwoven; it isn't rain, it isn't sheep but these are present; it isn't just 'coal not dole', though that's a scar; it isn't the pretty, shitty, heroin cities, though these live large; it isn't Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, or Kathryn Jenkins, though I'm told they're important; it isn't the lilting accents and male voice choirs, though they still sing damn well; it isn't the rolling hills or castles or boom towns, though those pervade; it is knowing these all and writing them anew in the spaces we carve out for ourselves.

Creating a nuanced view on Anglo-Welsh writing in under 1000 words is nigh-on impossible without resorting to the word 'diversity' - truly, it is diverse. Diversified by location and the history of the writer in the history of the place.

Ever more distinct lives are lead between city and country, north and south, mid and west - it's tempting to identify myself as a Bowiseg boi, a Marches man but not always useful. My own history takes a path all over the world and yet is rooted in Mid Wales, on the border between countries and tongues. Unlike what my teenage self thought, Mid Wales is now where I spend a great deal of my time.

It's these roots - however cut, however mixed, however branching out - combined with writing the strength of voices and lives we find around us, it's this which defines us.

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Bedazzled - a Welshman in New York begins in Newquay, Wales this week [October 15th] and runs in Cardiff from October 29th - [and including] November 1st.

For more information go to http://bedazzledinnewyork.org