In Mr. Smith’s first hour English class each student was given a choice. He or she could either recite a memorized poem before his or her peers or write an original one. While I was rather daunted by either prospect I chose the task performed without leers (which is why I’m opposed to workshops). Fortunately, good teachers know how to foster an inclination. Mr. Smith gave me an A (for effort no doubt, as it was not quite on a par with Dylan Thomas’s first published poem).
The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower was the force that through a Paper Mate drove my enchantment with the written word. This was well before I heard his spoken word, or of his notorious exploits, to which, in due course, I fell sway. But it was The Word (holy to me) of this all-too-earthly man that first enchanted. Neither voice nor vice equalled his pen. Though both came close.
While the latter may have taken his life, the former lives on in his recordings, thanks to HarperCollins Audio’s Caedmon Collection. And thanks to Santa’s Sleigh (a big brown truck) this collection of Thomas’s readings (as well as several of his books) will be available at Our Town Books — just in time for Christmas. One of the books is an illustrated edition of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, which just happens to be the first recording of the set of 11 (yes, 11) CDs. In addition to this holiday classic, the collection offers other such reflections of the poet’s childhood on the south coast of Wales, inexplicably pronounced by Billy Collins (introducing each CD by reading the liner notes to the original albums — remember albums?) as though it were Melville’s rather than Thomas’s subject. This, as well as other quirks abound. At times New York’s “EL” train can be heard nearby, a sort of time and place accompaniment to the readings.
Readings. What a dry word for a man who sang in his chains like the sea. A man whose gilded baritone transformed the poems he read into arias. A night at the 92nd St. Y must’ve felt like a night at the Met. when ol’ Dylan was in the house. Complete with antics. When he wasn’t rhapsodizing he was sucker-punching you with shtick (just wait for his midwestern accent in A Visit To America). Part Verdi, part Vaudeville — a real bard’s bard — Thomas, make that, Dylan, seems to speak, make that, sing to the reader/listener personally, as though every track were a serenade (part fiddle, part violin — all virtuoso). And all for $29.95.