Glenn Dixon has published two books. Pilgrim in the Palace of Words: a journey through the 6000 language of Earth was published in 2009 to rave reviews. His second, Tripping the World Fantastic: a journey through the music of our planet just came out in April of 2013. He has also published travel articles and cultural pieces in major publications such as National Geographic Magazine, the New York Post, the Walrus Magazine, the Globe and Mail and even Psychology Today. He’s traveled through seventy countries now and worked on documentary films in Egypt, Tibet, Russia, Peru, Ecuador, Turkey and many others.
Dixon is a full time author, musician and documentary film maker. He has three degrees including a Masters degree in socio-linguistics. He lives and works in Calgary, Canada.
Please listen to our conversation about Tripping the World Fantastic here:
2014 marks the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth. In celebration of this, The Folio Society has issued a new selection of his poems, notable, I’d say, not for the poetry which is well known, but for its deft presentation.
Black and white it is. And appropriately so, as these contrasting colours, if they may be called such, feature large in Thomas’s poetry. Most memorably, ” Bible-black”, but also “crow-black”, “tar-black”, “bat-black”.
Pull the volume from its slipcase and the first thing you see on the front board is a striking black and white photograph of Dylan lighting a cigarette. The image is strongly reminiscent of one I recall seeing of John Lennon, another bard of sorts, another rock star – for Dylan was as popular as a rock star, something unheard of at the time for a poet. In fact, it is after him that Bob Dylan chose to name himself.
The photograph’s whites beautifully capture the sheen of Dylan’s Lord Fauntleroy curls, the shine of his silk scarf, the flame of his match, the texture of his sweater.
Opening the book you see the poet at work, in his own hand, text scattered across the end papers, complete with scratch outs and replacement words. Across from the title page, there’s a contact sheet, on glossy paper, that features six images of Dylan in various poses. Similar evocative photos of family and place illustrate and demark the collections from which these poems have been selected.
The title page displays its text in a san serif font, upper and lower case, set beneath Thomas’s distinctive signature, complete with its little twirl on the “D”. Each poem in the book receives a bold san serif title, coupled with serifed text.
The pages of the book provide ample ‘thumbage’ space, lending the type a stark, beautiful legibility against bright white paper. The book has an informative introduction by Owen Sheers, one of Wales’s leading authors, and a helpful, lengthy notes section at the back.
Here’s how Sheers concludes his introduction:
Because, whatever his faults and excesses, he is a poet who we need to have in our lives. A reminder of the nature of the human condition, stripped bare of intellectual masking. A reminder of the natural world given voice with suitable drama and strange wonder. And a reminder that poetry has its roots in music, and always will.
While Thomas’s poems are well known, those chosen here are judiciously selected, and beautifully presented.
Okay, after having recently read Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde, and just finished Kenneth Silverman’s biography of Edgar Allan Poe, I’m getting a little tired of authors who die miserably, in extremely squalid circumstances. Oscar died poverty-stricken in a seedy Parisian hotel – Edgar broke, in hospital, after having been rescued from a dive bar, drunk or stoned/medicated out of his tree, wearing someone else’s clothing. Oscar was diagnosed with encephalitic meningitis, probably brought on by syphilis contracted as a young man. Here’s Ellmann:
“At 5.30a.m., to the consternation of Ross and Turner, a loud, strong death rattle began, like the turning of a crank. Foam and blood came from his mouth during the morning, at ten minutes to two in the afternoon Wilde died…He had scarcely breathed his last breath when the body exploded with fluids from the ear, nose, mouth and other orifices The debris was appalling.”
As Ellmann puts it in the epilogue:
“It was ostracism – more or less – by two groups, those who could not bear his homosexuality and those who could not bear his requests for money.” “English law had misdone him by punishment, and English society finished him off by ostracism”
According to Joseph Evans Snodgrass, the Baltimore editor and physician who rescued Poe from Gunner’s Hall tavern in Baltimore, “Poe was sitting in an armchair surrounded by onlookers”. Silverman continues “Poe had a look of “vacant stupidity.” He wore neither vest nor tie, his dingy trousers fit badly, his shirt was crumpled, his cheap hat soiled. Snodgrass thought he must be wearing castoff clothing, having been robbed or cheated of his own.” A Dr. John J. Moran at the Washington Medical College hospital, to which Poe was driven, “diagnosed Poe’s condition as encephalitis, a brain inflammation, brought on by “exposure.” This explanation is consistent with the prematurely wintry weather at the time, with Snodgrass’s account of Poe’s partly clad condition, and with Elmira Shelton [a love interest]‘s recollection that on leaving Richmond Poe already had a fever. Both explanations may have been correct: Poe may have become too drunk to care about protecting himself against the wind and rain. Whatever the cause, the poet who above all others worshipped Poe also keenly sensed how much his death at the age of forty was demanded of him. “This death was almost a suicide,” Charles Baudelaire remarked, ” a suicide prepared for a long time.” Both Oscar and Edgar were buried with fewer than 15 people attending each of their funerals. Today both graves receive the attention of thousands of literary pilgrims. I’m hoping the subject of the next literary biography I read wont end quite so tragically. Here’s the Literary Tourist list of all things Edgar Allan Poe.
I’ve just finished reading Richard Ellmann’s splendid biography of Oscar Wilde. Filled with telling detail about the man and his times, illuminating insights and deep empathy, the work is one of the most engaging I’ve ever read. Here’s how it ends:
“His work survived as he had claimed it would. We inherit his struggle to achieve supreme fictions in art, to associate art with social change, to bring together individual and social impulse, to save what is eccentric and singular from being sanitized and standardized, to replace a morality of severity by one of sympathy. He belongs to our world more than to Victoria’s. Now, beyond the reach of scandal, his best writings validated by time, he comes before us still, a towering figure, laughing and weeping, with parables and paradoxes, so generous, so amusing, and so right.”
Biography, when written this well, joins reader and subject in ways that only true-life friendships can approach. I felt a real void after finishing this book, and, to bring in literary tourism, a desire to explore the various places and books referred to therein. With this in mind, here’s the Literary Tourist list of all things Wildeian.
I recently read the letters of Wyndham Lewis. This passage (page 42) by the book’s editor, W.K. Rose, provides as good a quick summary of the man’s approach to his art and public persona as any:
“His angry rupture with Roger Fry confirmed in him a lifelong opposition to the Bloomsbury group and what it signified for him: art as the province of the socially and financially established, dilettantism, the effete versus the vital. His casual connection with Marinetti taught him techniques of propaganda – brash statement, aggressive mien – that gradually became integrated in his public personality.”
This past weekend we made the trip between William Kennedy’s Albany, NY and Binghamton, and then on to Ithaca. Along the way we stopped into the Book Barn (good selection that serves its community well) in Latham, and Catnap Books
(more interesting selection, at least for the collector) in Oneonta.
On page 43 of Lewis’s Letters there’s reference to the Lewis collection at Cornell, this was our final destination, the Kroch Rare Book Library
After saying goodbye to these boys
in Binghamton, we settled into a pleasant drive through the red and orange treed countryside. In addition to Cornell, we made a point of stopping in at Ithaca’s Tompkin County Used Book Sale.
After signing in at Kroch we selected boxes in the collection that contained handwritten manuscripts and graphic images. The friendly
staff was very helpful.
And it was fascinating to see early drafts of Blast magazine in Lewis’s own hand
along with posters,
and original dust jacket
William Kennedy has written eight novels in what he calls the “Albany Cycle,” all set in his native city, Albany, N.Y. Writing in the New York Review of Books, the novelist and scholar Thomas Flanagan took this overview of
“William Kennedy’s cycle … began with Legs in 1975. This was followed by Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game in 1978 and Ironweed in 1983. They were spoken of then as a trilogy, partly because they shared a setting and some characters and partly because the third of them, a harrowing narrative of pain and a possible redemption, seemed to bring certain shared themes to resolution.
“But then came Quinn’s Book in 1988, which reaches out from Albany to an impressionistic nineteenth-century America, a land of slavery and warfare and haunted rivers. There followed Very Old Bones in 1992 and The Flaming Corsage in 1996, set solidly in Albany, but bearing down not on the public scene but on erotic and creative energies within highly untypical (I trust) families in the city’s Irish Catholic community. [With Roscoe he returned] to the larger city, a model, so he has persuaded us, of urban corruption. Taken together, the cycle … is one of the triumphs of recent fiction, uneven but audacious in its ambition and dazzling in its technical resources.
“Kennedy creates this setting with scrupulous accuracy, a Joycean reverence for street names, urban legends. It is quite possible that his knowledge of Albany’s geography, its nooks and crannies and their histories, is wider than Joyce’s knowledge of Dublin. It is displayed with flourishes not only in the novels but in O Albany!, the combined history, street guide, and memoir which he published in 1983, and which is based on wide reading, a childhood and youth lived there, and long experience as a reporter on the Times-Union. He speaks of himself, in the preface to that book, as ‘a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs for the life of the soul.’”“In Kennedy’s Albany, everyone knows everyone else, even if they do not know themselves. They have been cheating and screwing one another for decades, one way or another. They know each other’s bloodlines, alliances, vices, secret lyricisms, schemes for survival or success. The bosses and their lieutenants and goons know what buttons to press, what feudal loyalties to exploit. Ordinary people, the poor and the obscure and the homeless, can make themselves useful stuffing ballot boxes, or, like Francis Phelan of Ironweed, voting early and often. Their masters use power and triumph as counters to buy the best food and the gaudiest women. But they also cherish power for what in itself it is, a mysterious, self-justifying energy and delight.
Last year at about this time I had the pleasure of attending several events (including
a fablulous, funny Burlesque show) that kicked off Wales’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dylan Thomas. The climactic event in the Dylan Thomas 100 Festival should prove to be equally entertaining. The Dylathon is a 36 hour (11am Sunday 26 October – 11pm Monday 27th) live non-stop reading of the works of Dylan Thomas at Swansea Grand Theatre ending on the very hour of his birth 100 years before.
Readers live on stage include great stars of stage and screen (Ian McKellen, Sian Phillips, Jonathan Pryce); sports legends (JPR Williams, Eddie Butler, Ryan Jones); national treasures (Ruth Madoc, Katherine Jenkins, Nicholas Parsons); a strong Irish contingent to greet our guest of honour President Michael D Higgins (Dervla Kirwan and Frank Kelly); broadcasters (Robert Peston, Gethin Jones, Sian Lloyd); actors (Celyn Jones, Suzanne Packer, Charles Dale); musicians (Eggs Laid by Tigers, The Morriston Orpheus Choir); comedians (Jo Brand, Kevin Eldon); writers (Howard Brenton, Gillian Clarke); together with local school children, young people and community groups. The closing hour of the show will include The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales reading Those Who Died in the Dawn Raid, Michael Sheen will join the party via live-link from New York and Hannah Ellis, Dylan Thomas 100 Patron and Thomas’ Granddaughter will read ‘Letter to Aeron’ – Dylan’s letter to his daughter Aeronwy, Hannah’s mother.
Olivier Award-winning stage director Michael Bogdanov will stage 36 hours of non-stop Dylan, creating twelve elegantly crafted 3 hour ‘chapters’ from the poems, short stories, letters, broadcasts (including Under Milk Wood) and film scripts plus some rare and unpublished materials. Fully devised and curated, with over 200 pieces of material read by literally hundreds of voices. The event is designed by multi-award winning Ed ‘Dr Who’ Thomas and literary consultant is the international Dylan Thomas expert Jeff Towns.
It will be a fitting tribute to Wales’ most potent cultural icon, an audacious centenary celebration in the city of his birth, his beloved Ugly, Lovely Swansea.
For the final chapter of the Dylathon ‘The Thin Night Darkens’, President Michael D Higgins, Dylan Thomas 100 stakeholders international dignitaries and guests will join the audience for the climactic minutes leading up to 11pm on Monday 27th. This final 3 Hour chapter will feature:
Hannah Ellis (Dylan Thomas’ granddaughter and Dylathon patron) reading ‘Letter to Aeron’ – Dylan’s letter to his daughter Aeronwy, Hannah’s mother
HRH The Prince of Wales’ (Dylan Thomas 100 Festival Royal Patron) recording of ‘Fern Hill’.
The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales reading ‘Those Who Died in the Dawn Raid’
Ian McKellen reading ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’, from ‘Deaths and Entrances’
Katherine Jenkins and Ian McKellen reading Rosie Probert and Captain Cat from Under Milk Woo.
Jonathan Pryce reading ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’
Sian Phillips reading Dylan’s 1st letter to Caitlin Macnamara, his future wife
Ryan Jones – former Wales Rugby Captain and British Lion reading ’A Letter to Vernon Watkins’, written November 13, 1937
Gillian Clarke, Wales National Poet Laureate reading ‘Poem On His Birthday’ from ‘In Country Sleep’
Michael Sheen – a live link from New York – reading ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’ from ’25 Poems’
The Wales Theatre Company reading from ‘Under Milk Wood’.
The Morriston Orpheus Choir singing The Reverend Ely Jenkins Sunset Poem from ‘Under Milk Wood’.
Dylan Thomas fans from throughout the world can buy tickets for this extraordinary celebration for the entire 36 hours, for 12 hours or for a 3 hour block. See www.dylathon100.com for programme descriptions and booking details.
This year’s National Poetry Day will take place on Thursday 2 October. The theme for 2014 is ‘remember’.
Whether it’s Thomas Hood or Philip Larkin‘s ‘I Remember, I Remember’; the centenary of the First World War; or the national Poetry by Heart recitation competition; memory is an important part of poetry.
This year, refreshing our collective poetry memories, there will be readings, launches, prizes, performances and happenings. Details of the Poetry Society’s work is below, but for details of other events taking place visit: www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk.
You can also keep a track of everything that’s going on by following the Poetry Society on Twitter, or watching the hashtag #nationalpoetryday.
National Poetry Day Live
The Poetry Society and Southbank Centre, London, present National Poetry Day Live from the Clore Ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall. Join us for a wonderful afternoon of poetry for all ages, including school groups, families and an evening of performances for adults. Featuring performances from some of the biggest names in poetry, including Julia Donaldson, John Hegley, Daljit Nagra, Kei Miller and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze.
Several new Poetry Society commissions will also premiere at National Poetry Day Live, including a new film of Marian Allen’s ’The Wind on the Downs’ and several new Page Fright films, featuring spoken word legends.
Classic Literature Travel Guide [Infographic] by the team at Cheapflights