Can Dylan Thomas do for poetry what The Choir did for music? Dub-Poet Benjamin Zephaniah thinks so. Exclusion from school and a spell in a borstal made him indifferent to poetry until he read Dylan’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Now he wants to show others how poetry can turn your life around.
Benjamin Zephaniah asks if Dylan Thomas can do for poetry what The Choir did for music in Ugly, Lovely Swansea: A Poet on the Estate.
I thought of this title before I wrote a word of this piece. Some time ago I just threw Dylan Thomas in with all the other dead, white, male poets that grown-ups tried to force us to like. There’s nothing wrong with being dead, male or white, the problem was that when you’re an angry young black kid, seeking justice, and trying to find art that expresses your struggles and your pain, you just get angrier when you’re told to go away and read a poem about daffodils. I have nothing against daffodils. Some of my best friends are daffodils, but it was about priorities. My contemporaries and me went off and created Dub-Poetry, a modern form of performance poetry, and we were happy not to be associated with those dead guys.
Performance poet Benjamin Zephaniah reads Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
But then two things happened to me. A friend of mine sat me down and read Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night to me, telling me what led up to the writing of the poem, and then I heard a relative of Dylan Thomas saying that he once used to have a writing shed and she would often hear him reading his poems out aloud.
So Dylan Thomas was a real bloke I thought, not an elitist, he had love and passion, that’s why he wrote Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and he was a performance poet. He wrote with the voice in mind. He is no dead, white, male poet. He lives. I have proof. He turned me on.
Ugly, Lovely Swansea: A Poet on the Estate starts 28 April, 20:30 on BBC One Wales.
To discover more about the life, work and legacy of Welsh poet and broadcaster Dylan Thomas go to bbc.co.uk/dylanthomas.