Poetic Manifesto: Dylan Thomas

by SK

This is Thomas’ responses to five questions put to him by a student and his answers are very interesting in terms of poetics, influence and language.
I like the idea of treating words as malleable materials, taking words out of context and shaping them into poems. In this manifesto, Thomas writes:

What I like to do is to treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve, mould, coil, polish and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, fugues of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly-realised truth I must try to reach and realise.

How beautiful! Something I’ve always loved about Dylan Thomas is the way he uses words in exactly this way – the sort of ‘soundscape’ quality and rhythm that rolls you along through the pages – so it’s interesting to see it described in his own words.
He talks about having ‘fallen in love with words’ before he could even read them, which would explain the use of sound, rhythm and rhyme in his poetry and prose. It’s interesting too to think about ‘triggers’ and how sounds of words can incite one to write a poem – even just a single word.
I love when Dylan Thomas is writing about his early works, that he thought them to be wonderfully original things, “like eggs laid by tigers”. It’s just a lovely description of one’s own creation: something so new and precious and unimaginably rare!
Thomas goes on to answer a question about the deliberate nature of his use of rhyme, rhythm and word-formation. Personally, I think these things should always be deliberate and even when seeming accidental are surely deliberate on some level of consciousness. I mean, sometimes things ‘just sound good’ or ‘right’ that way, but usually it’s because of the measured rhythm or careful choice of words.
Thomas says:

I am a painstaking, conscientious, involved and devious craftsman
in words…I use everything and anything to make my poems work
and move in directions I want them to: old tricks, new tricks, puns,
portmanteau-words, paradox, allusion, paronomasia, paragram,
catachresis, slang, assonantal rhymes, vowel rhymes, sprung rhythm.

Needless to say I found the footnote to this very useful in defining some of these terms! I love that Dylan Thomas used every device possible and this is taking the deliberate use of rhyme etc to the extreme.

I read poetry to be inspired, moved, surprised, taken somewhere new, to see things from a different angle… and I am happy to be challenged a little when reading. Dylan Thomas says, “I, myself, do not read poetry for anything but pleasure. I only read the poems I like.”

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