With the Swansea Bay 2017 bid for culture at the forefront of the city’s conscience at the moment, Swansea’s thriving literary and music scene certainly made its mark on National Poetry Day on 3rd October 2013.
Since 1999, National Poetry Day has been celebrated on the first Thursday of October, with a different theme to loosely engage with each year and kickstart inspiration; 2013 saw us presented with “water, water everywhere”, one of the most famous lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
One of the greatest difficulties presented this year was trying not to summon last-minute inspiration from a bottle of Evian (I had no interest in putting its mineral content into a sonnet and decided at this point I was probably taking the theme a little too literally), but simply choosing which event to attend in Swansea. With poetry so often warily looked upon as pretentious, it was clear that this was not the case here. The Dylan Thomas Centre promised a free evening of some of the best of our local published poets which saw them actively engaging between audience and performers in a refreshing and exciting approach to a poetry event. At the same time, the Do Not Go Gentle festival—which is due to start on the first weekend of next month—offered an evening at the birthplace of Dylan Thomas at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive with a line-up which included current editor of Parthian press Susie Wild, young local musician Sarah Passmore, poet and musician Tony Webb, some regular performers of spoken-word open mic event The Howl and popular South Wales alt-folk band Rag Foundation who recently played before the Swansea City vs. Manchester United game at the Liberty stadium.
After being asked to perform with The Howl, I decided I would go to Cwmdonkin Drive unless I could get my Horcrux to attend the Dylan Thomas Centre for me as well.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. The venue was small, which was inevitable when held in the living room of a semi-detached house (like the Guinness World Record attempts to fit as many people as possible into a Mini, how many poets can one fit in a lounge?), so several people had to listen from the doorway which wasn’t ideal considering the event wasn’t free for those watching. However, regardless of the space issues, the evening was richly atmospheric and hugely engaging and we were all welcomed into the house with wonderful hospitality.
Pierre Davies hosted the evening smoothly and professionally, opening and closing the evening with recordings from Dylan Thomas himself. Opening with the classic Fern Hill and combined with the dim glow of the lamp lit room, the mood was set as Sarah Passmore took to her acoustic guitar and, despite all her modesty, presented us with music and lyrics that had depth and insight way beyond her years; one of her songs Monsters having a dark and startling rawness that lingered long in my mind. Lightening the atmosphere, she closed with an upbeat acoustic rendition of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and with her mature voice and upbeat strumming, she managed to transform it entirely.
The Howl performers took to the stage next with a diverse range of offerings including a notably water-themed poem from a father to his son with a hatred of swimming lessons (thinking back to my dragon-like swimming teacher and those swimming caps that make your head look like a pencil eraser, I understand where the boy is coming from), a darkly imagistic and richly atmospheric poem about rain (very British and also very apt, considering Swansea was hammering away at its precipitating best at the windows), a humorous attack on the futility of low-alcohol beer and a surprisingly detailed poem about copulating snails (“moist” as someone responded.) The abundance of topics—which admittedly didn’t stick strictly to this year’s theme, but again this was never essential—gave an example of the total diversity of spoken word performances in Swansea and demonstrated the vibrant and unique styles on the city’s literary scene. The Howl line-up features the works of some of Swansea University’s own students.
The only downfall is that everyone had to hear a few of my poems as well, and for that I can only apologize that I cannot offer compensation for any minutes of their life they want back.
Tony Webb gave us an acoustic song about the closure of his old school and the sadness surrounding the event before reciting his poems with passion, every word booming out clearly and with emotion as music and poetry sang out together in one set. On the theme of water, he reflected upon the local landscape, which interestingly was followed by an editor’s reading of a new anthology which explored the perspective of asylum-seekers who had arrived in the city. As refreshing as the poems were, I did feel as though I wished I could have heard some of the writers themselves to add to the rawness of each poem read and really hear each individual voice.
Susie Wild followed with an impressive collection of poems and a glowing stage presence, speaking to the audience with an intimacy that brought the room closer together and maintaining the cosy atmosphere. When reading and listening to poetry as well as music, it makes a lot of difference to have a strong feeling of rapport between performer and audience. There is nothing worse than a silent audience and a flat performer; something which I am glad to say didn’t occur at Cwmdonkin.
Rag Foundation provided us with the final act (the lamp went out somewhere in between the acts; we were all hoping Dylan’s ghost had stumbled in for the party but sadly it turned out to be that the lamp cable had been pulled). The folksy rhythms were perfectly accompanied by vocalist Neil Ronconi-Woollard and multi-instrumentalist Kate Ronconi-Woollard on the fiddle. Never having heard them before and not having listened to much folk music myself, I found myself tapping my feet along (wisely opting to stick to Diet Coke, I eliminated the embarrassing risk of dancing) and it was clear to see why this band has had such widespread acclaim. They brought the night to a close with fantastic energy and not a member of the audience left the room without a smile on their face and a catchy rhythm in their head.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,” crackled the voice of Dylan Thomas over the speakers at the end of the night. With nights like this, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive certainly did not.
by Natalie Holborow