- A lost poem by Dylan Thomas, published originally in a magazine called Lilliput in 1942, has been recovered from a torn-out page; this weekend, in an act of poetic resuscitation, the actor Celyn Jones will read it aloud in public. We know the poem is called “A Dream of Winter,” and that it “features eight verses of three lines and focuses on imagery of a birdless wood, snow, and ‘singing statures.’ ” Anyone who can reconstruct it word for word based on these parameters will receive the entirety of my checking account.
- The novelist H. L. “Doc” Humes helped to cofound The Paris Review in the early fifties—an often delicate enterprise, apparently. “Doc’s essential contribution to the founding of The Paris Review was his gusto and charisma; he was the first managing editor, but he prioritized his own writing … Doc was embarrassingly demoted to ‘advertising manager’ at the first issue’s release in spring 1953—a slight that prompted him to stamp his name onto the masthead of as many copies of the first issue as he could. In future issues, Doc was restored to the masthead as a founding and contributing editor, in spite of his laissez-faire style.”
- Today in mourning through psychogeography: “When’s the last time you’ve spotted someone you know on Google Maps? I never had. And my mother, besides, is no longer alive. It couldn’t be her … By moving the camera position up and down the street, and using the zoom function, I could trace my mom’s movements on that day as the Google car drove by. In the first frame, she’s a few paces from the door, with her back to the street; she was probably just returning from work … I took screenshots of my mom from every angle available on the site, saved them to my hard drive, and e-mailed copies to myself, just in case my hard drive crashes at some point. Then, like a living, breathing grief-complicating cliché, I e-mailed the images to family and friends, in order to simultaneously brighten and ruin their days.”
- Jim Shaw is working a vein that you might call “crackpot gothic”: his retrospective at the New Museum features his own work as well as the thrift-store paintings, UFO magazines, and wooden theatrical flats he’s recovered from various ends of America. “Like the surrealist Max Ernst, Shaw eschews a single signature style in favor of an elaborate, somewhat hermetic personal mythology … Shaw’s show may be titled ‘The End Is Here,’ but he appears to share our national optimism. Although his obsessive faux naïve work dares you to find it creepy, it is more often strangely cheerful, as well as enigmatic. How nice to see a swarm of gnat-sized Superman clones in pink capes fly through a giant keyhole.”
- Growing old blows. Art and literature know this—in fact, they know it better than science, or at least better than dermatology. And so dermatologists, in their textbooks, turn to art: “The authors of Surgical Anatomy of the Face … conclude their efficient run-through of the changes that occur from approximately age thirty to seventy by referring their readers to a few seventeenth-century oil paintings. ‘These changes,’ they note, ‘can be clearly seen in the sequential self-portraits of Rembrandt.’ And indeed, in the four that the authors have selected, we can trace the Dutch master’s transformation from soft, luminescent youth to jowly, faded old man. More precisely, we can observe as ‘the melolabial lines deepen, forehead lines appear, and undulation of the mandibular line becomes noticeable,’ observe ‘the nasal tip descend, and the rhytids of the forehead, the perioral area, and the neck deepen … ’ ”
- Today is the first-ever Dylan Day: a commemoration of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, which he debuted at 92Y (his voice “removed and godlike in tone”) on May 14, 1953. Dylan Day grants you a plausible reason to seize strangers by their lapels and scream about raging against the dying of the light. Do this. The opportunity comes but once a year.
- What happens when a performance artist abducts a bunch of curators and collectors for an “experimental expedition” in the Swiss Alps? More or less what you’d expect: “Kobilinsky appeared out in the snow. He was completely naked and he was walking toward the structure. It was a wild sight. Not just the naked man staggering through a wide expanse of snowy nothingness, but the group of esteemed collectors crowding the windows like eager schoolchildren. When Kobilinsky reached the crystal igloo and began to crawl inside, agonizing screams started emanating from somewhere outside the train.”
- “I would sacrifice my own life for a chance to throw a single brick at Ernest Hemingway, the American novelist who eats too much … He coughs up feathers out of his mouth wherever he goes.” New “letters” between “Hemingway” and “Fitzgerald.”
- As the nineties cedes its contemporariness and becomes “an object of historical inquiry,” it is now time to ask: What the hell happened back there? A new show, “Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s,” begins the critical task of contextualizing the works of the Clinton era. “The show marks our own radical break with a decade at once familiar and unfamiliar … The nineties were marked by various points of turbulence that have now evolved into unremarkable if not unproblematic features of our daily lives: a changing geopolitical order, precipitated by the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union; the “digital revolution,” which linked spatially disparate societies for the first time; the emergence of a global art scene and the series of international festivals and events it spawned; and the advent of so-called ‘identity politics.’ ”
- Before there was Naples, there was Parthenope, a beautiful city on the bay in roughly the same location; Virgil retired there, and the city traded on this fact for centuries. “Virgil’s place in Parthenope was paraded from the moment of his death, though not perhaps in the way he might most have wished. He became much more than a poet. The author of the Aeneid was variously the city’s owner, its founder, a wizard, a magician tunnel-maker, a worker of miracles and, when Christianity sensed a rival, a worker of Christian miracles.”
Today is the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth. Paul Ferris’s “Ink Is Wanted by Raving Brother: Dylan Thomas’s Swansea Years”—an oral history of the poet’s youth and early years in Wales—appeared in our Spring 2004 issue. The excerpt below explores Thomas’s brief, unhappy stint as a reporter.
In 1931, probably after the summer term, Dylan Thomas left school and went to work for the local newspaper, the South Wales Daily Post. He was sixteen years old. The paper was in fact an evening title, part of a London-based chain, and changed its name to Evening Post soon after. Its early editions circulated throughout southwest Wales, but the core readership was in the Swansea area. Local commerce and politics were featured to a degree unheard of in today’s vacuous local tabloids. The editor, J. D. Williams, assumed that his readers (some of them, at least) cared about music, theater, and poetry.
CHARLES FISHER (A lifelong friend of Thomas’s, and a fellow reporter.): His father probably got the job on the paper for him through J. D. Williams, as my father got me mine—he was head machinist there, he ran the rotary press. And since I had some talent for writing simple sentences, it was thought I could become a reporter. No one challenged that idea. I followed Dylan as a reader’s boy, a copyholder, and took that vacancy created when he moved on to be a junior reporter. I copyheld for about six months, then I was promoted to the newsroom. We wrote everything up in a strange, constricting, old-fashioned prose that really belonged to reporting at the start of the century. No one thought of treating news any other way. But our image of ourselves was a Chicago newsroom, the black hat turned down, the knowing look, the cigarette never removed once lit—which was a habit Dylan kept to the end.
ERIC HUGHES (A journalist, older than Thomas, and never very fond of his younger colleague.): I think Dylan was on the Post less than a year. I was a sub-editor, and when you saw his copy, it was appalling, with many lacunae. Nor was he reliable. To my knowledge, he wrote a crit of the Messiah at one of the St. Thomas chapels, to which he didn’t bother to go. Half his time was spent in the David Evans Café where they gave you a free State Express cigarette with your coffee. Read More
One imagines that lots of Dylan Thomas devotees are marking his centenary by making a pilgrimage to the White Horse Tavern, where the dissolute poet famously downed those last fatal eighteen whiskeys. For their sake, we hope the White Horse is not thronged with frat boys, although I guess they have as much right to pay their respects as anyone. More, maybe.
Naturally, any Thomas-themed New York walking tour—and there are several, guided and otherwise—includes the White Horse, the sites of his other watering holes, and perhaps St. Vincent’s hospital, where he died. Personally, I prefer to focus on a happier landmark from Thomas’s New York days: the Little Shrimp. This restaurant—a favorite of the poet’s when he was in residence at the Hotel Chelsea—is where, in 1952, the young, audacious Barbara Cohen and Marianne Rooney approached Thomas about making recordings for their new line of spoken-word records. The result was Caedmon Records—the source of many of Thomas’s iconic recordings—and the classic record A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Read More
In honor of the new year, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!
When I first started working at Kings County Distillery, in the summer of 2010, I was delighted to find the job provided ample time to read. Whiskey making has its own peculiar rhythm. Each batch begins in a flurry, as one juggles a series of tasks like a line cook, but ends in a hush, with little to do but watch the languorous drip of the stills.
This was in the wobbly-legged days of the company’s infancy, before we moved into the grand old brick paymaster building in the Brooklyn Navy Yards. Back then we were based out of a studio space on Meadow Street with wooden floors and five-gallon steel pot stills that had to be emptied, scaldingly, by hand. (This, as our former downstairs neighbors can attest, would prove an unfortunate combination of circumstances.) During that first summer, we worked singly, in nine-hour shifts, so there was a lot of alone time. So, unless one wanted to lose one’s goddamn mind in that little room, one read. Read More
One of my favorite novels of the past few years is Andrés Neuman’s Traveler of the Century, an ambitious “total novel” that is many things: a love story, a murder mystery, and, most of all, a novel of ideas. While his latest, Talking to Ourselves, is much more brief and intimate, it is no less moving and intelligent. And while Traveller was set in an imaginary place, Talking to Ourselves is grounded in our reality, alternating between the voices of a father, mother, and son as they all deal with the father’s illness. None of them dares to express the complete the truth to the other two; instead, it’s up to us to put the pieces together. As the mother, Elena, expresses near the end, “Let’s be honest. All honesty is a little posthumous.” —Justin Alvarez
When I last left America, an airport official confiscated Dos Passos’s USA trilogy to reduce my hand-luggage; I learnt my lesson and flew back in bearing only one light paperback, Open City by Teju Cole. As I read it over three months, its narrator, Julius, walked through the same streets of New York (then Brussels and back to New York) in a headspace James Wood astutely calls “productive alienation,” nourishing common encounters on the street with memories (of his father’s funeral, Nigeria, schoolmates illnesses, the first illicit consumption of a pornographic magazine or a Coca Cola). His narrative is besieged by loss, and calibrated, in the end, to omit rather than include. Cole’s novel is paradoxical, “turned in on itself” as Manhattan itself is: “water was a kind of embarrassing secret, the unloved daughter, neglected, while the parks were doted on, fussed over, overused.” —Lucie Elven
“Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.” If one story conjures the youthful enchantment of tossing snowballs at neighborhood cats and building snowmen, of chimneys emitting plumes of smoke, surely it must be Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Published in a slim blue volume by New Directions, this comic tale of family and friends of Christmas past is sure to delight; I joyfully revisit Thomas’s word-drunk reverie each year. —Adam Winters
This week I’ve been reading the Barbara Bray translation of Marguerite Duras’s L’amant (The Lover). On more than one occasion I found myself reading it aloud, not just to hear the pleasant tensions of translation, but to also listen to the heartache of Duras’s language. Against the backdrop of prewar Indochina, Duras paints the most tempestuous of love affairs. Yet amidst the novel’s unabated despair—the affaire de coeur, the family torn asunder by poverty, the mother’s madness, the young girl’s insatiable desire for another young girl’s body—shines a beacon of hope: the narrator’s inexorable determination to become a writer. “I’m still part of the family, it’s there I live to the exclusion of everywhere else. It’s in its aridity, it’s terrible harshness, its malignancy, that I’m most deeply sure of myself, at the heart of my essential certainty, the certainty that later on I’ll be a writer.” To second Maxine Hong Kingston’s remarks in her Introduction to the novel, “The Lover is a story about a girl and a woman becoming an artist.” —Caitlin Youngquist
Sportswriter Joe Palmer once warned that those of us who’ve spent time at the races may develop an “unreasonable fondness for certain places,” and if you’ve ever been to Aqueduct—the neon lights, the cinderblock walls, the geriatric thugs crowding the parimutuel windows—no doubt you’re familiar with the sentiment. A certain charm, one might say, if one were drunk on Wild Turkey—and yet the kids have not caught on, or at least not yet. The New York Racing Association recently commissioned thirteen street artists to liven up those cinderblock walls, resulting in several murals diverse in style, size and subject matter (including portraiture based on archival photos supplied by the NYRA). On a recent afternoon the grizzled throngs were still in evidence, though I also spied a few fresh-faced twenty-somethings looking only slightly ill at ease. Aqueduct’s current meet runs through December 31. —Abby Gibbon