Audio: Jo Furber on Dylan Thomas and why you should visit Wales


View from the Dylan Thomas Walk, Laugharne

Literary Tourist in Wales

Yes, the background voices are distracting, but what do you expect, we’re in a Welsh pub for crying out loud! Well, actually we’re upstairs at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea at a bar surrounded by revellers who have just attended a hilarious poetry vs burlesque mashup (featuring an appearance by Queen Victoria

quite an appearance,

there were even balloons)

down the hallway in the Centre’s theatre. So everyone is pretty frisky. The performance kicked off the annual Dylan Thomas Festival.

Dylan Thomas expert Jo Furber is Swansea Council Literature Officer and curator of the Dylan Thomas Exhibition. She also sits on the board of the prestigious New Welsh Review, the country’s foremost literary magazine in English.

Listen as she fields every question I hurl at her, with racing car driver reflexes and dexterity. Here is everything you need to know about Thomas and how and why to visit Wales. If you happen to love his literature and poetry, even if you don’t, you’re sure to get caught up in the enthusiasm (be sure to listen for one of the revelers offering to buy me a drink, about mid-way through the conversation).

For good measure, later on that evening, I also interviewed the then National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke. Things have died down a bit, but they’re still fairly rowdy. Listen here if you’re so inclined, as we talk about what’s unique about Welsh poetry, the oldest living language in Europe, memorability, truth, Lear’s Cordelia, Dylan Thomas’s truth and exaggeration, the Welsh accent, Carol Ann Duffy, and the importance of imagination, creativity and music in education.

Find more information on the Dylan Thomas Centre here, and on visiting Wales, here.

Ted Hughes on Hedgehogs

In  Letters of Ted Hughes ( edited by Christopher Reid) you´ll find a letter from Hughes to Edna Wholey in which he says he hears

“a commotion in the hedge, and after a while, out trundled a hedgehog, merry as you like, and obviously out for a good time. I thought he might make a jolly companion for an evening so I brought him in. After a while I noticed he had disappeared and later heard a noise just like the sobbing of a little child, but very faint, and it continued for long enough. I traced it to a pile of boxes, and there was my comrade, with his nose pressed in a pool of tears, and his face all wet, and snivelling and snuffling his heart out. I could have kissed him for compassion. I don’t know why I’m so sympathetic towards hedgehogs.”

Did you know that you can stay in the house that Ted Hughes was born in? It’s located in Mytholmroyd  in West Yorkshire, England, Check it out here. Unfortunately, I don’t think they can guarantee the company of any hedgehogs, but there is an annual Festival that you can attend. If rare books and archives excite you, as they do me, you can always make the trip to Emory University in Atlanta.  The Rose Library holds an impressive collection of Hughes’s papers, you might even be able to find the letter quoted above. The library also holds Ted’s private library, as well as books formerly owned by Sylvia Plath.

Fancy a Poldark pilgrimage?

If you’re a fan of Poldark, the series of historical novels by Winston Graham (published from 1945 to 1953 and continued from 1973 to 2002),  and/or the subsequent BBC telly series, you’ll enjoy this gorgeous spread of photos highlighting various real-life Cornwall locations that are featured in the books and on the screen. There’s also a book, also written by Graham that you can buy: a  lavishly illustrated companion to the novels that was reissued to coincide with the TV show. (If you’re interested in the faithfulness of the TV series to the books, or the books to the reality, you might like to read this intriguing take on the topic).

If this isn’t enough,  Visit Cornwall has a map, and some typically lush travel lingo to go with it that encourages us to “Go behind the scenes and discover the glistening blue waters, lush countryside and craggy cliffs that have sashayed from the background to become the lead Poldark star across the first three series. We think they’re even better in real-life than they are on screen!”

Hungry for more? Try The Poldark Cookery Book, wherein you’ll find a recipe for one of my very favourite dishes:  the cornish pasty ( be sure to enjoy with a pint of West Country cider!). The cookbook is “filled with the food that would have been enjoyed by Ross Poldark and Demelza in the eighteenth century, this recipe book is the perfect present for the Poldark super-fan.”

For more of what you’ll need to know before you go, drop by the Visit Cornwall website. Oh, and if you’re a book collector, there’s currently a set of all twelve first editions available online for US$8500

 

Four Reasons why you should visit Literary Places

Top Withens, the ruin on the moors near Haworth that inspired Wuthering Heights

This from David Herbert’s paper LITERARY PLACES, TOURISM AND THE HERITAGE EXPERIENCE, published in the Annals of Tourism Research, 2001. Herbert is Emeritus Professor of Geography at University of Wales Swansea:

“In these places, a visitor can still walk out of a house and into landscapes which have barely changed since the writer drew breath from them and breathed literature into them… We walk in our writers’ footsteps and see through their eyes when we enter these spaces (Marsh 1993:xi, xv).

Second, tourists may be drawn to literary places that form the settings for novels. Fiction may be set in locations that writers knew and there is a merging of the real and the imagined that gives such places a special meaning. Fictional characters and events often generate the strongest imagery. Pocock showed that tourists to Haworth sought out the moors but emotions in crossing them were suffused “less with the excitement of treading in the Brontes’ footsteps, than with the thought that Heathcliff might appear” (1987:138).

Third, tourists may be drawn to literary places for some broader and deeper emotion than the specific writer or the story. Squire (1993, 1994) exemplified this with her research into Hill Top Farm, a former home of Beatrix Potter, in Cumbria. Many tourists were evoking memories and emotions from their childhood: their recall was of the telling of the stories and their bonds with home and family. In a similar way, G. Davies (1995) recorded the significance of the story Evangeline to the Acadian people of eastern Canada. For them, she argued, the story, as depicted in Longfellow’s poem, evoked memories of suffering and the loss of a home territory.

The fourth reason may be less concerned with the literature than with some dramatic event in the writer’s life. Van Gogh was an artist rather than a writer but Millon (Office de Tourisme, Auvers-sur-Oise, personnal communication in 1993) commented that many people visited Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris because of its association with the manner of the artist’s death rather than with his art.”

If you’d like information on Haworth and Bronte country, click here.