Poetry should be heard, not seen, according to Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. This idea is the inspiration for her latest project, “Dylan Thomas and the Colour of Saying,” which celebrates the art of poetry through oral recitations of fellow Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Lewis, along with English professor Kurt Heinzelman, will read Thomas’ poetry as part of the Poetry on the Plaza series at the Harry Ransom Center this Wednesday at noon. Lewis said the idea for the event came directly from Thomas’ practice of reading poetry aloud before an audience.
“He used to quite often read other people’s poetry; poets just usually read their own these days,” Lewis said. “I thought as part of the tribute during the centenary year of his birth that it would be a fitting thing to imitate his act of generosity.”
According to Lewis, currently a visiting professor at Princeton University, poems are often designed to make more sense audibly than if they were read to oneself on a page.
“To read them on your own is sort of like going to swim in a wetsuit,” Lewis said. “It’s much nicer to go skinny-dipping or at least in a bathing costume so that you can actually feel the water.”
On the title of the event, Lewis said that Thomas’ poetry calls upon all five senses and opens up a “colorful world.”
“Poets don’t work on their own; they work in relation to other people’s work,” Lewis said. “We are all colored by each other.”
Heinzelman — who has been publishing poetry for more than 30 years and has served as a co-editor and advisory editor of numerous poetry publications — said the Harry Ransom Center has the largest archive of Dylan Thomas materials in the world, housing over half of all the existing archival material on the poet. Heinzelman said the aura of poetry is something books cannot capture in the same way.
“Thomas believed very strongly, as [Lewis] and I do, that poetry is an oral event and it wants to be spoken; it wants to be read; it wants to be heard,” Heinzelman said. “It makes the poetry more alive.”