By Gwen Miles
On the first weekend of November, I made my way into the centre of Swansea to get involved in a celebration of poetry. 2017 marks the sixth anniversary of the Do Not Go Gentle Festival, two days of acts and performances taking place in venues across the city centre. This year, headliners included Francesca Martinez and Tony Law, and the line-up of art, music, comedy and poetry happily coincided with two weeks of events hosted by the Dylan Thomas Centre, remembering the poet’s life and work.
First, I headed down to the Dylan Thomas Centre – a lovely museum hidden away near the marina, which opens daily and features the permanent exhibition ‘Love the Words’ as well as other temporary collections, performances and events. It was Friday, almost the end of half term for schools, and a room was set up with paper and pens, pages from old books, and cut-out words from Thomas’ poems. This was a drop-in blackout poetry workshop, designed to engage with a mixed group of adults, students or young children and families. The idea was to take a page from a book and pick out words that could work together as a poem – the result is a simple, visual and fun piece of art. I had a word with the learning director at the centre, who told me that she received some great feedback from adults who’d never tried poetry before, and who found it very freeing and liberating. Creative writing can seem like an overwhelming prospect, but the uniqueness of this workshop is that you’re working from a select set of words rather than the entire English language. The learning director herself was dyslexic, and acknowledged that this visual art style of poetry could be a more accessible way of expressing creativity. Children, too, were enjoying the activity, taking words from Thomas’ poems like ‘tree’ and ‘summer’ and combining them with their own ideas. Funnily enough, this process of playing with words, rearranging sentences and giving them new meanings is a very Dylan-esque approach to poetry.
The next day, I grabbed a coffee at The No Sign Bar on Wind Street, and went upstairs to find a group of eight people gathered for a poetry workshop. I was curious as to how it would compare to Friday’s activity; where the Dylan Thomas Centre provided resources and left you to your own imagination, this workshop was two hours long and led by a professional writer. The demographic was significantly different: a small group of adults of varying experience in poetry and performance, but no children. The Do Not Go Gentle Festival certainly seemed targeted more at adults than families, perhaps because a lot of the venues doubled as bars, or perhaps due to the rather pricey (but not unreasonable) ticket cost. We were all a little nervous and reserved at first but Glyn Roberts – the workshop leader – gave us prompts and activities to get our creativity flowing. He incorporated readings of his own poems as examples of style, rhyme and subject matter, and we were all encouraged to share our work aloud. I found that by the end of the two hours I was scribbling down little phrases and ideas even while Glyn was still explaining the exercise! When I got a chance to talk to him as we all got up to leave, the poet explained to me that he hoped the workshop had acted as a kind of introduction into poetry – having hosted regular workshops around Swansea he understood the importance of catering to groups of mixed abilities. My only disappointment was that although the festival takes its name from Dylan Thomas’ poetry, there seemed to be very little reference to Swansea’s best-known writer himself in any of the events I attended.
In the journey of the bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2021, Swansea showed a quiet determination in showcasing their cultural heritage. Despite Swansea’s loss of the bid, their efforts have not been in vain. I thoroughly enjoyed both workshops in spite of their differences, and although I would’ve liked to have learnt more about Dylan Thomas from the Do Not Go Gentle festival, from all accounts it was their best year yet. One thing’s for certain; each festival was firmly rooted in Swansea: The Dylan Thomas Centre offered tours around Thomas’ birthplace, and the Do Not Go Gentle Festival inspired ticket-holders to explore venues all around the city centre. In the name of Dylan Thomas, both of the workshops I attended empowered people of all abilities and backgrounds to access their creativity – perhaps the very best legacy that a poet could aspire to.