Published May 7, 2015
The rare works of renowned, 20th-century “rock star” poet Dylan Thomas have returned home to the UB Poetry Collection.
Last year, UB sent a portion of arguably the world’s finest collection of early Thomas manuscripts nearly 3,500 miles to Wales, Thomas’ birthplace, in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.
Displayed at the National Library of Wales and the Dylan Thomas Centre of Swansea, the trip marked the first time the manuscripts were shown publicly outside of the university.
With the works back at UB, the Poetry Collection of the UB Libraries will host “Dylan Thomas: A Centennial Celebration Plus One,” an exhibition of Thomas manuscripts and photos that document the poet’s legacy.
The exhibition will open with a reception from 6-8:30 p.m. May 12 in 420 Capen Hall, North Campus. Those wishing to attend are encouraged to RSVP at 716-645-2917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In true Thomas fashion, guests will be treated to Dylan Tonic — a mix of gin, tonic water and a “heaping spoonful” of jam.
Michael Basinski, curator of the Poetry Collection, will offer remarks at 7 p.m. James Maynard, associate curator of the Poetry Collection, will provide a brief history of the manuscripts. Guests will be able to view photographs of UB’s participation in the Welsh centennial celebration taken by Lauren Maynard, an editor in University Communications.
“You cannot mention the great poets of the 20th century without saying Dylan Thomas,” says Basinski. “The collection puts us on the global map of research libraries and universities, and reveals that UB and the UB Libraries were pioneers in this kind of collecting, and visionaries for collecting it back in the 1950s.”
Unlike many artists who gain prominence after their death, Thomas achieved notoriety by the 1930s, amassing three national reading tours before he died in 1953 at the age of 39.
Though best known for his poetry, Thomas also wrote short stories, plays, films and an unfinished novel. His radio broadcasts are credited with pioneering the audiobook genre. And Thomas also worked as a BBC broadcaster, and a scriptwriter and narrator for British propaganda films during World War II.
His famous and influential works include the poems “Fern Hill” and “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”; the short story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”; and his “play for voices,” “Under Milk Wood.”
The Thomas collection began at UB in 1941 through the efforts of UB Libraries director Charles D. Abbott to expand the university’s holding of modern poetry.
At the time, Abbott had a firm policy to only accept donations of manuscripts and forbade purchasing such materials. But recognizing Thomas’ talent, he broke his own rule and persuaded friend and UB benefactor Thomas B. Lockwood to purchase the materials from Thomas for $140, a modest sum for the time.
The collection began with five notebooks filled during the poet’s teenage years, now the earliest work of Thomas known to exist.
Additional Thomas materials acquired during the 1950s-60s include an original draft of “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” a carbon copy of “Fern Hill” on which Thomas wrote a crossword puzzle and two portraits painted of the poet three months before his death.
The purchases marked the beginning of the UB Libraries’ decision to accept paid, as well as donated submissions of literary works.
“A wise breach of policy,” says Basinski.
“Dylan Thomas: A Centennial Celebration Plus One” will be on exhibit until September.