HIS poetry has been read in his birthplace of Swansea countless times but today Dylan Thomas’s words will sound unique as they echo around the “ugly, lovely town”.
For they have been translated into Mandarin for what is believed to be the first time.
Chinese poet and translation expert, Professor Wu Fu-Sheng, will read the poems in front of an invited audience at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in Uplands, the home where Thomas was born almost 100 years ago.
Professor Wu Fu-Sheng says the poetry presents “intriguing issues” for the translator. His first ever visit to Wales is funded by Swansea University and the City and County of Swansea and it is hoped it will promote the work of Dylan Thomas in China and strengthen links between both countries.
The Mandarin reading is the latest in a series of high-profile events which are being held to mark the centenary of the Under Milk Wood writer’s birth. Last night the Dylan Thomas International Prize for young writers received its London launch during a Wales Office party hosted by Welsh Secretary David Jones, which was expected to be attended by musician and broadcaster Cerys Matthews. More on which later.
Just hours earlier, it was announced that Hollywood star Rhys Ifans will team up with Twin Town director Kevin Allen for a Dylan Thomas tribute at this year’s Festival No 6 in Port Meirion. And this weekend Laugharne will celebrate the iconic Welshman when National Theatre Wales stages Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited, a re-imagining of the world of Under Milk Wood.
But back to the Chinese translation. Thomas is already well-known internationally, especially in the US, with former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter among his biggest fans. However, until now, there has been no major translation of the poet’s work in Mandarin, a language with around a billion speakers.
While today’s gathering is for an invited audience, there will be a public event on May 6 at Noah’s Yard in Swansea when Professor Wu Fu-Sheng will be doing further readings. It is not yet known which poems he’s translated but Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is believed to be one of them.
“Dylan Thomas is Swansea’s most famous son. His life, work and legacy have contributed a huge amount not just to putting Swansea on the map in the UK, but across the rest of the world too,” says Swansea Council leader David Phillips. “This is why we do so much to promote our links with him and have arranged a huge variety of high-quality cultural events and activities this year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.
“Visitors to Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Centre over the last year have come from as far afield as Brazil, New Zealand and China, and we have many Chinese students studying at Swansea University.
“The translation of Dylan’s works into Mandarin will keep extend his legacy in China and encourage even more Chinese people than ever to visit Swansea and experience the city that nurtured and inspired him. This will help further raise Swansea’s profile as a visitor-friendly city of culture in the wake of a recent announcement that we’ve been awarded a major grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to upgrade the city’s permanent Dylan Thomas exhibition and put a community outreach programme in place.”
Today’s readings come just hours after the London launch of the 2014 Dylan Thomas International Prize. Officially unveiled in New York a few weeks ago – as part of an American celebration of Thomas – the award is usually open to published writers up to the age of 30 but this year the age limit is being extended to 39 – the age at which Thomas died.
The annual award, worth £30,000, was founded by Peter Stead to celebrate the best young writers from across the globe. Those eligible for the prize now have until May 30 to enter.
Stead says: “Previous winners have come from Australia, the USA, Northern Ireland and Wales: shortlisted writers have come from every continent. The prize commemorates a writer who was acclaimed in his home town before very quickly achieving fame in London and internationally. English language fiction, poetry and drama by writers under 39 may be submitted for the £30,000 prize which is intended to launch careers by identifying the most exciting new writing from around the world.”
While the prize has been flying the flag for Thomas for the best part of a decade, it is just the tip of the iceberg of events to commemorate him this year. The official celebrations – DT100 – opened last November with an exhibition of Sir Peter Blake’s illustrations of Under Milk Wood. Now as the poems are read out in Mandarin today, so many seeds are also being sown for further tributes.