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Trying to get to the core of Dylan Thomas' Big Apple - and see through the booze.

Byline: carolyn hitt

MORE than 50 years ago another young man from Wales was soaking up critical acclaim.

Dylan Thomas became the city's first poetic pop star when he drew1,000-strong audiences to the 92nd Street Y, originally the home of the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association.

Under Milk Wood had its premiere at the "Y" while Thomas' first reading there in February1950drewa rapturous response. He would go on to perform many hugely popular readings in venues across the city and the USA until his death in New York in 1953.

New York still cherishes the Dylan connection and we were privileged during our stay to take part in a trial run of a new tour of his literary haunts in the city. The Welsh Assembly Government has a presence in NewYork in the Wales International Centre, which promotes all things Welsh.

New Yorkers certainly couldn't miss St David's Day, the day the WIC lit up the Empire State Building red, white and green while their Welsh Guide to Manhattan map detailing every last Cymric link makes fascinating reading.

Catrin Brace of the WIC had gathered a group of experts, including Dylan Thomas' American publisher and representatives from New York's cultural and tourist industries to try out the route. She also had the ultimate authority - Dylan's daughter Aeronwy, who has been touring America with Swansea poet Peter Thabit Jones giving talks.

Like most tourists, we were familiar with the cliches of 18 straight whiskies and riotous nights at the Chelsea Hotel and White Horse Tavern.

Ethereal in appearance and slightly mischievous in manner, Aeronwy was compelling company.

Outside the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, which hosted several of her father's performances, she read one of her own poems. In it, she ticked off Bob Dylan for never publicly admitting his debt to his namesake in his surname.

When we reached St Vincent's Hospital where Dylan died on November 9, 1953, the mood turned poignant. Aeronwy dismissed the usual story of his demise from alcohol poisoning.

The 18 whiskies of legend were more likely to have been six. She believes a morphine overdose administered by his doctor was the real cause of his death.

Waiting in the White Horse Tavern to round off the tour was David Slivka, the sculptor and friend of Dylan. Now 94, he was born on the same dayas the poet andwas there on his last day, making the death mask now exhibited at Swansea's Dylan Thomas Centre. Charismatic and charming, he filled the room with anecdotes.

Also propping up the bar where Dylan once sat was Welsh poet and novelist Owen Sheers, who is researching his new book in the reading room of New York Public Library.

Just one more in a long line of talented Taffs ensuring a bite of the Big Apple can produce a distinctly Welsh flavour.

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LEGENDARY: The White Horse Tavern in New York
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 12, 2008
Words:487
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