As many will be aware, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, born October 27th 1914 and died tragically young in New York on November 9th, 1953. One of the many commemorations, dramatizations, and documentaries around this iconic doomed poet is a BBC America film, “A Poet in New York,” starring Tom Hollander, and still available to watch online for another three weeks – for those in the UK anyway.

Fine production that it is, and very well received, there’s one point in it that I’d take issue with. “He’s one of those British stars who was made a star by America,” Tom Hollander told The New York Post. “It was New York that did that, and it was that New York poet scene … when poetry was rock ’n’ roll before rock ’n roll.”

Actually, considering New York’s contribution to Thomas’s stature, I rather doubt that. Thomas’s American tours between 1950 and 1953 began at least as intensive whistle-stop affairs, with the first taking in 40 venues in three months. New York may have had a big role in consecrating his stardom, but it’s hardly like the Big Apple can claim the honors for the Great Leek’s stature – especially because much of the poetry that made him famous was written in his teens, at an astonishingly early age, and well before very many outside influences beyond Wales itself could affect him.

However, America can claim some very significant trophies in Thomas’s legacy. His much-loved prose piece “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” developed in its final form, especially when recorded by Thomas himself for radio, thanks to U.S. commissions for Harper’s Bazaar and the purpose-built audio recording company Caedmon Audio. Also, Under Milk Wood, “that infernally eternally unfinished ‘Play’,” was finally finished under the pressure of the American tour schedule, and might never have been completed otherwise – and it was first premiered in New York.

So that’s all about Dylan Thomas and NYC – not a place that he depended on for his fame, but one that helped him a great deal along the way, and ensured that we have even more to remember him by.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail