Ambivalence and Thomas

Ambivalence and Thomas

Wednesday 2nd April

There is a great deal of ambivalence towards the Dylan Thomas Centenary celebrations, even now I find it difficult to refer to DT00, it sounds like a code-name for some sort of campaign and dismissive of such a momentous occasion as a year long international cultural festival. The term DT100 is not a brand, certainly not one that had any sort of investment in establishing as such and is a term that should never be used outside the offices of the Wales Tourist board where it could be used as a shorthand phrase for planners and administrators.

It is not an ambivalence informed by disinterest or antipathy. It is exhibited in wild pendulum swings of passion. Ambivalence is good. Internal conflict is an aspect of the Welsh psyche and it should have been anticipated and harnessed as a positive force very early on in 2013. The man or the myth; the persona or the poetry; under-Laugharne or under-New Quay; Carmarthenshire bred or Swansea born. The work and the writer are constantly the topics for heated debate and these exciting arguments have been part of the fabric of Welsh literature for the last 60 years, the biographers’ bitter battles.

The concept of using one man and his work as a vehicle to celebrate the culture of a nation on an international stage has its inherent risks. There is, for sure, no writer more appropriate for such an accolade. However the metaphor of a man for a nation and a canon of work for a national culture needs to be managed very carefully and the reputations of both Dylan Thomas and Wales protected.

The challenges associated with coordinating Thomas’ Centenary celebration were obvious and any challenges should be embraced and turned into opportunities. Our nearest English language literary culture is in Ireland, I have heard Irish, writers, friends of mine both in the published word and in performance criticise the Welsh for not lauding Dylan Thomas in the way in which they feel he deserves. What is our response? We tell them they are wrong and that we do have great respect and national pride … and they’ve just not noticed it. Maybe we tell them that Dylan Thomas is like a cuddly red dragon and we’re fed up of people’s perceptions of Wales being too limited … Dylan is just one of many world-class Welsh writers, in fact he is just one of many world-class writers called Thomas, consider RS, Edward or Gwyn. These responses will be so familiar. So how should we answer these accusations? Well, it is not by everyone on international trade missions wearing Dylan Thomas T-shirts, it’s by explaining why we have this great ambivalence and engaging others in our discussions.

The experience for the cultural tourist is one of dialogue. Reading is not passive activity and nothing is more stimulating of an active brain that reading Thomas’ poetry. To attract the cultural tourist requires an invitation to participate not an invitation to observe. That participation must be initiated in their own homelands, whether that is through the Sailed and Set Dazzling strand of activity or through an aware marketing, communications and publicity strategy. Branding is about messages and mission and truth, it is not enough to promote a tourism bureaucrat’s image of Thomas. All of the half-truths need to be shared and allowed to run free … in a controlled environment ;-) We should invite those interested to join our internal discussion openly.

The leaderships of the Dylan Thomas Centenary Celebrations … Festival requires both co-ordination and creativity, a year is a long time and a solid pre-planned infrastructure was critical but the direction needs to be reactive and flexible to take account of the nuances in the mood of the Welsh popular cultural sector if coherence is to be maintained. It is only April, we are only three months in, there is plenty of time to adjust and I’m still looking forward to a fantastic year.