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!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 poem will be edited by myself 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!

I was invited to say a little more about this year’s theme, and how you might begin to create poem around it.

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 have and always will change the way the world is (and sometimes keep it the same): from signatures marking declarations of war, to peace treaties ending turmoil. Almost everything you experience has come to be because of 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.

If you think about it, signatures are hugely 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 what he was trying to achieve with it. Instead, maybe you could use it as a jumping off point; 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.

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

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. The Developing Dylan website has also produced sets of resources for Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 to help teachers create poetry for Dylan Day with their pupils.

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