The definitive biography of the poet who was almost as notorious for his 'rock 'n' roll' lifestyle as his artistic work
Dylan Thomas was a romantic and controversial figure; a poet who lived to excess and died young. An inventive genius with a gift for both lyrical phrases and impish humour, he also wrote for films and radio, and was renowned for his stage performances. He became the first literary star in the age of popular culture - a favourite of both T.S. Eliot and John Lennon.
As his status as a poet and entertainer increased, so did his alcoholic binges and his sexual promiscuity, threatening to destroy his marriage to his fiery Irish wife Caitlin. As this extraordinary biography reveals, he was a man of many contradictions. But out of his tempestuous life, he produced some of the most dramatic and enduring poetry in the English language.
Published in England last year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Anglo-Welsh poet's death at age 39 in New York, London Times contributor Lycett's new biography has the advantage that Thomas's protective widow, Caitlin, is also recently deceased and his literary estate open. The basic story of the self-styled "Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive," told here with thoroughness and impartiality, still revolves around poetry, penury and pub crawling. Leaving Swansea after grammar school (though returning whenever cash ran short), Thomas spent several aimless years on the periphery of London literary circles before finally making good and eventually becoming a cult figure for American audiences. This public poetic persona ultimately detracted from his poetry more than the assorted side projects in radio, film and lecturing he took on for income. Half a century after Thomas's death, Lycett can be frank about the seamier side of the poet's character, such as his inclination for reading what he called "good fucking books" like Tropic of Cancer, possible drug use and his and Caitlin's extramarital affairs. Thomas's literary reputation, meanwhile, has fluctuated more than his steady popularity, from A Child's Christmas in Wales to "Do not go gentle into that good night." Lycett, who has written biographies of Rudyard Kipling and Ian Fleming among others, says Dylan fills "the gap between modernism and pop... the written and spoken word... individual and performance art..." and he admires Thomas's lyric gift as an English poet with roots in Wales. Despite its subtitle, Lycett's biography is not so much a new life as a more candid revisiting of the familiar one. 45 b&w photos.