John Metcalf

The Dylan Weekend: A Review for Voices


RICHARD BURTON: To begin at the beginning –

FIRST VOICE: Is the first line of Rhodri Miles’ Burton, a self-critical, self-analytical deconstruction of a self-destruction. Richard Walter Jenkins, self-styled roaring boy of Pontrhydyfen, just eleven years the junior of the self-styled Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive.

BURTON: He was the master, I was the follower.

VOICE: This is the first of the Dylan Weekends. Poetry and Theatre. September will bring Radio and Comedy, Music and Film. Dylan is everywhere and nowhere.

BURTON: His mellifluous voice, telling stories in bars.


BURTON: Art imitating life imitating art.

VOICE: Friday night. Rhodri Miles imitating Burton imitating Dylan.

BURTON: Dylan and I were kindred spirits.

VOICE: Saturday afternoon. Phil Bowen’s A Handful of Rain. Reprised for the first time in a decade.

PHIL BOWEN: Peter Reid is Dylan Thomas. Many people have played Bob.

DYLAN THOMAS: It doesn’t matter what I say or do… people say I said and did it anyway.

VOICE: Sunday night. Helen Griffin becoming Caitlin.

CAITLIN: I was never fond of his long, rambling, shaggy-dog stories.

VOICE: Dylan has become a collage of quotations.

DYLAN: Eighteen straight whiskies – I think that’s a record.

CAITLIN: Famous last words.

DYLAN: The dying of the light.

VOICE: Come closer. Listen. In the back room at Browns, Jeff Towns – the Dylan Thomas guy, he of the bookshop in Swansea and a van in a layby in Laugharne, is showing films from the archives. Black-and-white crackly imagery; the sound of wind and waves. And Richard Burton in a London pub…

BURTON: Best, Dylan loved small towns by the sea and small towns by the sea in Wales best of all. One day he found Laugharne and that was it.

DYLAN: Got off the bus, and forgot to get back on.

VOICE:  Inside the castle –

NICOLA HEYWOOD-THOMAS: A joint broadcast between BBC Radio Wales and WNYC, public radio in New York.

DYLAN: A terrible, beautiful dream and nightmare city.

JEFF TOWNS: In the years after Dylan died, he was denigrated in Britain but cherished in America.

VOICE: At least two former Presidents claim him as their favourite poet.

JIMMY CARTER: He was the greatest of all in my opinion.

VOICE: In ugly, lovely Townhill, Swansea, he is being rediscovered.

BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH: I always think of Dylan Thomas as the Bob Marley of Wales.

VOICE: On television, on radio and all across this –

DYLAN: Timeless, beguiling island of a town –

VOICE: In the Millennium Hall, in Browns Hotel, in the Congregational Chapel and the Fountain Inn, Thomas is being hailed in a lineage running from the Bible and Shakespeare through Kerouac and Ginsberg, the Beatles and Bob Dylan to Tupac Shakur.

KEVIN POWELL: Dylan Thomas is the only writer on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

PETER BLAKE: I treat illustration in the same way I do fine art.

JEFF TOWNS: Peter doesn’t like to talk about it.

DAVID BOUCHER: The Sergeant Pepper’s cover was pop culture’s confirmation that Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan are two –

BOB DYLAN: I did more for Dylan Thomas than he ever did for me.

DAVID BOUCHER: That line up of influences on The Beatles is like a male – and female – voice choir.

CAITLIN: He was a typical Welsh nonconformist at heart.

DYLAN: I first heard the rhythms of language from the pulpit. From the King James Bible.

PETER BLAKE: I don’t like cutting up bibles.

JEFF TOWNS: I feel the same when I’m breaking up a book – any book – for the plates. That moment of cracking the spine –

PAUL FARLEY: This next poem has a swear word in it –

PETER BLAKE: I don’t believe in heaven any more, but I’m still sort of Church of England –

PAUL FARLEY: I don’t know whether I should read it in a church –


PETER BLAKE: Yes I do – now – sometimes cut up bibles.

JEFF TOWNS: Some of the illustrations are magnificent.

BOB DYLAN: Jesus said: ‘You gonna follow me?’ I said: ‘I guess’.

DYLAN THOMAS: We’ve got common themes.

BOB DYLAN: We’ve got very common themes.

OWEN SHEERS: But with writers and poets, they just want the life story.

VOICE: The Dylan Weekend has reinvented Dylan Thomas as a progenitor –

JEFF TOWNS: The founders of the Beats were Charlie Parker and Dylan Thomas.

CAITLIN: A poet who defined the word poet.

MIKE SMITH: There’s this overlap.

BOB DYLAN: We’re all doing our best to deny it.

PHIL BOWEN: The Chelsea Hotel.

DAVID BOUCHER: Gregory Corso went into Dylan’s room when he was in a coma.

JEFF TOWNS: Allen Ginsberg met Dylan at a bar called the San Remo.

ALLEN GINSBERG: I have seen the best minds of my generation.

JEFF TOWNS: I have only ever seen two operas. One was a version of Under Milk Wood. The other was Tommy by The Who.

GINSBERG: Destroyed by madness.

CAITLIN: We all like to dip our hands in the mess.

VOICE: She’s right, of course. Helen Griffin’s one-woman show, a virtuoso performance of Caitlin closes proceedings in the Millennium Hall, and it is here – perhaps the only time this weekend – that we sense the ghost of Dylan. He is close now. His jacket hangs on the back of a chair. It is the only prop save a bottle of whisky that Caitlin has already demolished.

CAITLIN: I drink because he drinks.

VOICE: As Helen Griffin turns and calls to Dylan in the bath –

CAITLIN: Is it hot enough for you, love?

VOICE: For a moment, we imagine, Dylan might answer.

CAITLIN: Booming and mumbling, muttering and intoning –

VOICE: Like he does when Caitlin passes the shed. The Writing Shed.

BURTON: That mellifluous voice.

CAITLIN: I never disturb him.

VOICE: But the moment is gone. And instead we are left with a litany of placenames far, far from Laugharne and far too near to the madding crowd.

VOICE 2: The White Horse Tavern.

VOICE 3: The Chelsea Hotel.

VOICE 4: St Vincent’s Hospital.

VOICE: Latter day stations of the cross.

CAITLIN: In the hospital, I took a crucifix from the wall – and I smashed it on the floor. Into pieces.

VOICE: Pieces.

CAITLIN: And then I cry. Because I have loved him so much. Christ, I mean, not Dylan.

ELI JENKINS: We are not wholly bad or good.

CAITLIN: I had to bring him back to Laugharne. I had to bring him home.

OWEN SHEERS: It’s a verse-drama about different kinds of homecomings.

CAITLIN: That’s why you’re all here now, isn’t it?

OWEN SHEERS: The Odyssey. Y Gododdin.

CAITLIN: Isn’t it?

OWEN SHEERS: It’s also about and girlfriends and mothers.

VOICE: They that pick up the pieces.

OWEN SHEERS: Coping with the aftermath.

BURTON: Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

VOICE: In Dylan’s jacket pocket there is a letter.

CAITLIN: He made no attempt to hide it.

VOICE: Dylan has shown his real self –

CAITLIN: His poet’s self, his poetry –

VOICE: To a woman in America. To Pearl. There is also a poem, which Caitlin rips into pieces, and throws out of the Boathouse window.



VOICE: Confetti.

CAITLIN: But Dylan’s poetry is sacred.

VOICE: She creeps out, down to the mudflats.To pick up the pieces. She finds every last muddy piece, and lays them on the kitchen table. And for once –

CAITLIN: Dylan doesn’t say a word.

Illustration by Dean Lewis