Channel / 17 Sep 2014

Bernard Schwartz on Under Milkwood

As the newly appointed Director of the YM-YWHA Poetry Center on 92nd Street, New York, in February 1950 John Malcolm Brinnin achieved a long-held ambition to bring Dylan Thomas to America. After sell-out performances at the Poetry Center, Thomas embarked on a 40 date reading tour of the continent over the next three months, establishing his reputation Stateside as one of the most important living writers in the English language.

Alongside Thomas, the 1949-1950 brochure for the Poetry Center included such writers as Truman Capote, Arthur Miller, ee cummings, Stephen Spender and William Carlos Williams, indicating how highly regarded Dylan Thomas was in North American literary circles. After seeing Thomas perform, ee cummings and Dylan became close friends and mutual admirers of each other’s work.

Back in the United Kingdom, Thomas’ literary credentials were questioned by the Oxbridge duo of Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis, self-appointed leaders of the New Movement, the latter describing the talented Welsh poet as an ‘intolerable windbag’. Both poets felt that modernists such as Thomas, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, had made English-language poetry vague, pretentious and verbose.

How innovative was Dylan Thomas’ writing? What was his true literary standing in relation to peers on both sides of the Atlantic?