National Poet's tour diary: Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea
Home soon! No more gigs, no travelling, no going anywhere before Twelfth Night. There's work to do, poems to write, competitions to judge, manuscripts to read, correspondence to catch up with, but it can all be done at home at the table in the glass-walled room from where I can see miles of Ceredigion, work done despite my primitive internet connection via a dongle attached to the light flex over the table by a clothes peg. I am NOT making it up. And there's our Christmas card to make: a poem by me, a photo by David. We'll be printing, sticking, assembling, addressing and stamping late into the night. The poem is not yet written.
It's the last day of the poetry tour, at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea. I feel relaxed, in high spirits. It's always a good place to be, and the gig's been a sell-out for months. We drive to meet Carol Ann at Swansea station. She's fresh from her journey from Manchester through the snow-lands of border country, between the hills of the English midlands and the Welsh mountains.
We arrive at the venue to a warm welcome. There's a fine art exhibition on, portraits of writers by Gordon Stuart. Carol Ann stops at the turn of the stairs to look at a terrific painting of Beryl Bainbridge. "I want to buy that," she says. It is off the wall and wrapped in a trice.
In the 'green room' we plan the reading over sandwiches and a glass of wine. The theatre is buzzing. As we always do, Carol Ann and I read 8-10 poems in turn, then the same number again. This time Carol Ann begins the evening, and I finish. She is, as always, terrific: a glance spells out the irony in a phrase, a small hand-movement signals the ambiguity of a word. There is laughter, and that velvety silence of people listening, moved.
Old friends are there, from schools visited and courses taught, and one friend from my school days. Many have never been to a reading before. Old, new: the perfect combination, and a sign that we're spreading the word. Every time someone persuades another to give it a go, we move closer to the day when poetry really does reach its audience.
I read one poem I'm not sure about, a 'prayer' for the bereaved, commissioned by the cancer charity Tenovus. It's more poem than prayer, and it does the job, but is it any good out of context? I'm surprised when we sit signing books for an hour afterwards, several people mention it as the poem of mine that most moved them.
After, we drive to Cardiff to stay overnight, and before sleep we three sit late over a bottle of Pinot noir, plotting the spread of poetry throughout the land, talking about poems we're writing. Up early to take the Laureate to Cardiff Central. "Fablus!" she says. She's learning the lingo.
National Poet of Wales