Celebrate International Dylan Thomas Day!

To help commemorate International Dylan Thomas Day (14 May 2016), why not submit your lines to Dylan’s Great Poem, a 100-line bilingual poem written by the young people of the world!

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The Great Poem opens for submissions on Thursday 28 April at 9.00 am, and everyone aged 7-25, living anywhere in the world, is invited to submit up to four lines of poetry written in English or Welsh. From these, 100 lines will be chosen to create the Great Poem. The deadline for submission is 12 noon on Thursday 5 May

The poem will be edited by poets clare e. potter and Rufus Mufasa and will be published online and performed on International Dylan Day, Saturday 14 May 2016.

This year, the Great Poem has joined forces with Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. Selected entrants to Dylan’s Great Poem, aged between 11 and 17 and living in Wales, will be invited to a poetry writing masterclass!

We invited clare and Rufus to tell us a little more about this year’s theme, and what it means to them.

clare: Where to start when writing a poem? Well, for this one, your hands would be a good place, as ‘hands’ is the theme for Dylan’s Great Poem 2016. This theme was inspired by his piece ‘The Hand that Signed the Paper’. You can hear Richard Burton’s powerful reading of the poem here:

It’s an interesting poem for both its imagery and meaning. I love the lines, “Great is the hand that holds dominion over/Man by a scribbled name”. Signatures will always have the potential to change the way the world is (and sometimes keep it the same): from signatures marking declarations of war, to peace treaties ending turmoil. So many experiences and milestones in life depend in some way at least on a signature: your name, signed by your parents on a birth-certificate, a marriage, a divorce, the local bus time-table signed-off by the managing director, a bank cheque, a jail-sentence, a graffiti tag, education policies, even ever-maddening (for me at least!) health and safety regulations.

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If you think about it, signatures are very significant, which is what Thomas is alluding to in his poem. A “scribbled name” suggests that decisions of huge gravity can be made, at times, without care by a scrawny set of letters, and by a person little qualified in understanding or morality to make such a decree. But “scribbled reminds me of how, as a little girl, I practised a signature, looking to find out who I was in the swirls and bubbles that made up my name. Have you ever done that?

So you could begin with Thomas’ poem itself, rooting out the themes, the political statements, the form of the writing. But remember, it’s not necessary; you don’t have to deeply analyse what prompted Thomas’ poem, or work out what he was trying to achieve with it. Instead, maybe you could use it as a jumping-off point for your own ideas. Read the poem, aloud of course – you want to hear the word-music, the sense of where the poem is going and how it goes there.

Are there any images that draw you in because you think they are unusual, or beautiful, or odd, or remind you of something? Go there. For me, it’s rubbing cream on my grandmother’s breast scar; it’s the nicotine-stained fingers of one of my favourite poets; it’s the woman I saw give a performance of poetry using sign-language and no sound, and how it went directly to my heart.

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Perhaps you get a piece of paper (or chalk and a patio slab) and you write ‘Hands’ at its centre, then write down what comes to mind. Study your hands – what sounds can they make? Shapes? How do they move? What do they do for you? Think of others’ hands. Think of what hands hold on to, what they let go of.

Let your hands loose, then, to do the work of the poem. And give them thanks.

Rufus: We are all keeping a scrapbook in some capacity, whether it’s photographing memories, an Instagram account, collecting video footage, or updating Facebook. I’ve been creating scrapbooks for years, and have only recently realised that my ‘thoughts washing line’, as I call it, is a massive part of my creative practice, not just a bizarre habit!

Mood boards really aid my creative writing and have a massive impact on helping me to develop ideas that I don’t yet understand. Last week, I was at the Barbican in London running a Pit Lab. A Pit Lab is an opportunity for a group of creative people to give time to, well, just being creative. It is free from a forced outcome and direction; a special, liberating opportunity, with endless possibilities – once you get your head around not having to plan or prepare aims and objectives. Our Pit Lab process started with a giant wall space to create a group mood board/thought washing line that we all contributed to over the week.

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Absolutely anything goes; pictures, images, quotes, cut outs, articles, artefacts…the list goes on. From this mood board, we created an exhilarating, site-specific theatre piece, an abundance of poetry, a blueprint for an exciting music album, videos and short films. We also ended up with a whole new creative family, with endless possibilities for future collaborations. Have a go at creating your own mood board and scrapbook, and see if it helps you to ‘curate’ your creative self.

The theme for Dylan’s Great Poem 2016 is ‘hands’. With this in mind, I created a mood board of influences. I was inspired by a photograph I saw at an exhibition at the Barbican, titled ‘Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers’. The photo, of a woman’s hands, told a powerful story of hard work, dedication, love, sadness, and the yin and yang that comes with ageing. I also spent the week watching people’s hands on the underground; how they scrolled through their phones and tapped away furiously, how they held on to the bars for safety, and how the germ-conscious rubbed in antibacterial gel.

One afternoon, someone played ‘Grandma’s Hands’ by Bill Withers:

I thought about my own Nanna’s hands, and mind-mapped my memories. All these factors helped me to create poems, the first one following the structure of the villanelle, as used so famously by Dylan Thomas in ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’.

Honeysuckle, snowdrops, cowboy movies,
Her hard work broke every finger both hands;
Her hands that rubbed warmth back in to my feet.

Kept chickens for eggs and could break their necks
Without sweat- her Sunday dinners the best,
Honeysuckle, snowdrops, cowboy movies.

Could wire wool tiled floors until they looked new,
Power polished shoes that reflect right back
Her hands that rubbed warmth back in to my feet.

Up at six to light fires for family,
Never stopped knitting, always outstretched arms,
Honeysuckle, snowdrops, cowboy movies.

Never sick, but dementia became her
Shifted tonnes of coal, hand washed clothes old school
Her hands that rubbed warmth back in to my feet.

Magical pantry, potent poultice paste,
Strong hands on my hair, tells me pride will pinch.
Honeysuckle, snowdrops, cowboy movies,
Her hands that rubbed warmth back in to my feet.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way of writing a poem.Get creative, collect your inspirations, mind map, have fun, get arty, experiment with cross-art forms, workshop ideas with others, and enter the competition! I am genuinely excited about receiving your poetry.

To enter your contribution to Dylan’s Great Poem, you can submit your lines on the Developing Dylan website  from 9am on Thursday 28 April to 12 noon on Thursday 5 May.

clar e. potter. Image: Opal Turner
clare e. potter. Image: Opal Turner

clare e. potter teaches creative writing at Cardiff University. She’s published poetry, prose and non-fiction and works on collaborative art/community projects. She is currently Llwyn Celyn‘s poet-in-residence. As part of the Developing Dylan Cross-Art workshops in 2013, clare worked with students at Stanwell School and artist and film-maker Anne-Mie Melis. The students used Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘The Hand that Signed the Paper’ as inspiration to create short films.

Rufus Mufasa. Photo: Mab Jones
Rufus Mufasa. Image: Mab Jones

Rufus Mufasa is a lyricist, performance art poet and hip hop educator, heavily influenced by Dylan Thomas’ beat poetry. Rufus is a Fellow of Barbican London and an activist for community development and social justice. 

Published April, 2016

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