Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why I never became a poet | Jonathan Jones

By the way, I'm Welsh too.

As a Welshman, poetry was in my soul - until the editor of a poetry magazine poured cold water on my efforts

So, the Turner prize award is coming up, and it will be presented by the poet laureate. Which reminds me of my adolescent desire to be a poet. Perhaps most teenagers want to be poets, or at least songwriters, but if you're Welsh it's different. Wales is a bardic culture. Its cultural tradition is profoundly invested in the lineage of bards - oral poets - going back through the early middle ages and the Mabinogion into the mists of time. Writing poetry, in other words, seemed a very natural thing to do in north Wales and even, in some sense, a career aspiration or vocation – although I always wanted to write in English.

So ... I sang in my chains like the sea (complete Dylan Thoomas poem at end), until I actually got to go on a poetry course in a Nissen hut on a Snowdonian mountain, taught by the then-editor of the magazine Poetry Wales. A small group of would-be bards from schools in our area spent a couple of intense days trying to prove we were actual poets. I remember trying to impress people by quoting Paul Morley in NME saying that Joy Division were an "angst band". I was rightly mocked for this pretension.

When it came to the private tutorials, the man from Poetry Wales was nothing like as impressed with my verses as I hoped he'd be. Worse still, he really liked the work of a rival. He spoke with authority. I never aspired to be a poet after that moment of disillusion in the mountains.

This may seem a ramble, but actually it is pertinent to the use and abuse of criticism.
The fact is, that magazine editor really did crush my teen dreams of being a poet. Probably he was right. But maybe ... who knows?

I've managed to mostly avoid pronouncing on students' work. It's a massive responsibility. You know, when you slag off Damien Hirst, that he's not going to lose his millions overnight because of a review. But what about younger artists who are still discovering a style, a voice? Is it better to back off? A lot of the time, yes. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 |

Though I sang in my chains like the sea
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heyday of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honored among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

-- Dylan Thomas

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