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8 - Welsh Modernist Poetry: Dylan Thomas, David Jones, and Lynette Roberts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2017

John Goodby
Affiliation:
Swansea University
Chris Wigginton
Affiliation:
Sheffield Hallam University
Neal Alexander
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
James Moran
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
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Summary

‘Welsh modernist poetry’ would seem to be something of a category error. The term has almost no critical currency – unlike, say, Irish or Scottish modernism – and there might seem at first glance to be little need for it. Who would it include? How would it be configured? What would be its distinctive features – its equivalent of MacDiarmid's ‘Caledonian antisyzygy’ or Joyce's forging of ‘the uncreated conscience of my race’? So readily is Welsh writing subsumed in English or British writing that answers to these questions will not occur readily to most students of modernism. In the last ten years, however, a start has been made on assessing the impact of modernism on mid-twentieth century Anglophone Welsh poetry. This essay builds on that work, and its most provocative suggestion: that, of all the component parts of the archipelago comprising the United Kingdom and Ireland, Wales may have made the greatest per capita contribution to modernist poetry.

Unlike Anglophone poetry in Scotland and Ireland, which can be traced back to a native Renaissance courtly culture and the Ascendancy respectively, Anglo-Welsh poetry is a very recent phenomenon, in part because it was so inhibited by the strength and prestige of Welshlanguage poetry, which has a venerable tradition stretching back to the sixth century. Anglo-Welsh poetry did not come of age until the 1930s; yet belatedness meant that it drew on long-suppressed energies and, crucially, appeared at just the moment when modernism had its greatest mainstream prestige in Britain. This makes it unique among Anglophone poetries, and these supressed energies indelibly coloured the first two decades of its existence. In turn, this ‘First Flowering’ of Anglo-Welsh poetry produced three major figures of mid-century poetic modernism: Dylan Thomas, whose 18 Poems (1934) and Twenty-five Poems (1936) reinvented the native Blakean avant-garde visionary tradition under the aegis of post-Eliotic metaphysical modernism and surrealism; David Jones, the author of In Parenthesis (1937), The Anathemata (1952), and The Sleeping Lord (1974), the most significant British extensions of Poundian and Eliotic poetic practice; and Lynette Roberts, whose Gods with Stainless Ears (1952; written 1941–3) makes her the most innovative avant-garde poetic stylist of the British 1940s.

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Regional Modernisms , pp. 160 - 183
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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