It's not often I come across another poetry buff, yet when I do the conversation goes a little something like this:
Them: Do you read much?
Me: Yeah! I love reading! I'm a junkie! (Notice the exclamation marks and my tendency to get off topic.)
Them: What do you read, fiction?
Me: Some fiction yeah, a lot of poetry too.
Them: Poetry? Yeah? Me too! (Notice that the exclamation marks have now switched hands).
Me: So who are some of your favourites?
Them: Dylan Thomas, Yeats, you know, the classics.
Them: And you?
Me: Mostly contemporary Canadian stuff.
And so ends that. But I'm slowly working on it.
Dylan Thomas. Remember that scene from Dangerous Minds in which another teacher turns to Michelle Pfeifer's character and says something along the lines of, "Dylan? You're teaching these kids about Dylan Thomas?!" and she smugly says, "No, Bob Dylan." Because we all know how Bob is so relevant to inner-city gang kids. Anyway...
A while ago the local library had a used book sale and my wife brought me home a book entitled, The Poetry of Dylan Thomas thinking for some reason that it was poetry of Dylan Thomas (much like that Boston Pops covers the hits of Radiohead cd that you thought was such a great bargain). Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be criticism of his poetry written in 1954 by a man named Elder Olson. (Can you believe the library was getting rid of this?) Still I was curious to give it a whirl. I'm often shooting my mouth off about poetry, maybe it was time to see what a real critic does. But I wanted to actually read some of his work first. So I picked up a copy of selected Dylan Thomas poems the last time I was in Ottawa. Now I'm trying to manage a juggling act of reading them concurrently.
I'm not finding it as mesmerizing as one might think. Olson has given me some nice insights into Thomas's use of symbolism and it's been good to have actual poems to illustrate his points rather than the occasional line here or there. Plus, I'm enjoying the balance in Olson's work. He considers Thomas a genius at times, a lazy poet at others. Most importantly, he judges Thomas's work on pretty clear terms, which so far revolve around Thomas's imagination. However, I don't agree necessarily when he says "We measure performance as against what it seems impossible anyone should have done, against what only a fine artist could have done" and so forth. While I appreciate that this would make Olson's critique consistent, I do not appreciate the "we" suggesting that these values would be the same for everyone. It's like arguing that the artistic merit of figure skating can be judged fairly. It cannot. It's still subjective. What I think is impossible for anyone else to have achieved, might seem like child's play to you.
Also giving me insight into the Dylan Thomas poems are the notes in the back of the selected works. I especially liked the notes for "My hero bares his nerves". At first it reads as if someone is writing, it's the surface level of the poem. But as the notes suggest, there are a more than a few metaphors linking it to masturbation as well. Reading it a second time, I giggled like an adolescent boy. Read it here.