Saturday 24 September 2022

Peter Thabit Jones, "Under the Raging Moon"


Peter Thabit Jones has authored sixteen books. He has participated in festivals and conferences in America and Europe and is an annual writer-in-residence in Big Sur, California. A recipient of many awards, including the Eric Gregory Award for Poetry (The Society of Authors, London) and the Homer: European Medal of Poetry and Art, two of his dramas for the stage have premiered in America. His opera libretti for Luxembourg composer Albena Petrovic Vratchanska have premiered at the Philarmonie Luxembourg, the National Opera House Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, and Theatre National Du Luxembourg.  A book of poems, A Cancer Notebook, is forthcoming. Further information is on his website here.  

Front cover artwork by Swansea artist Jeffrey Phillips

About Under the Raging Moon: One Night with Dylan Thomas in Greenwich Village, New York: A Drama in Four Acts, by Peter Thabit Jones

October, 1953. Dylan Thomas, unwell and harassed by personal problems, is on his fourth and fatal visit to America, organised by John Malcolm Brinnin, Director at the YM & YWHA Poetry Center in New York. 

October 25th. Dylan, accompanied by Liz Reitell, Brinnin’s assistant, with whom he started an affair on his third visit, is in a taxi on the way to Greenwich Village. Since his arrival in the city, she has been trying to keep him away from his ‘hangers-on’ and to focus him on the upcoming two performances of his Under Milk Wood at the Kaufmann Auditorium. Unhappy and upset by his general behaviour, she stops the taxi near her apartment and abandons him to do whatever he pleases.

In this imagined scenario, he stops at some bars where he mainly meets people unknown to him. The final bar is the White Horse Tavern, his favourite drinking place in the Village.

Note: In the early hours of 3rd November, Dylan would leave the Chelsea Hotel and an upset Liz. His last-ever drinking spree would lead to him being rushed to St Vincent’s Hospital on November 5th, where he would go into a coma and die on November 9th. 

This imagined evening with Dylan Thomas, unwell and who becomes somewhat drunk as the hours pass in his visits to four pubs in Greenwich Village, New York, aims to show the man behind the legend when he is among non-literary people: people unknown to him, apart from two bar people and two hangers-on. Always in the back of my mind were some comments by his Swansea friends, such as the poet Vernon Watkins and the painter Alfred Janes, who knew the pre-legend Dylan, that he could be ‘ordinary’ with the right people. I have aimed for that ‘ordinariness,’ the ability to empathise with others, in a genius of a man. 

His time with my chosen characters brings out certain themes: fatherhood, childhood, money, love and death. They were some of the themes that permeated his works and his letters.

You can read more about Under the Raging Moon on the UK publisher's website here and in the US here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the opening of Act Two. 

From Under the Raging Moon


The stage is lit to show a section of another American bar. AVA, the young barwoman, is behind the counter. Enter DYLAN THOMAS

AVA: Mr. Dylan Thomas! (Looking at EZRA LOWELL, who is sitting at a table).  This is Dylan Thomas, a very famous poet. 

DYLAN THOMAS: I’m just posing as Dylan Thomas, my dear.

AVA: Oh, you are a wicked, Mr. Thomas! You don’t fool me!

AVA to EZRA LOWELL: He’s from England.  A very famous—

DYLAN THOMAS: From Wales. I’m Welsh. Welsh as a slice of bara brith from Carmarthen market.

AVA: Oh, I just love it when someone speaks another language! Don’t you, Mr. Lowell?  No friends with you tonight, Mr. Thomas?

DYLAN THOMAS: No.  I’m a dumped poet. Dumped by a female friend who thinks I am not fit to share the Manhattan air with her.

AVA:  Oh, poor Mr. Thomas.  Sit with Mr. Lowell. He’s by himself too.

DYLAN THOMAS (looking at EZRA LOWELL): May I become the second member of your club for lonely men? 

EZRA LOWELL: Take a seat. What you drinking, famous poet?

DYLAN THOMAS: An Old Grandad whisky, Ava.

EZRA LOWELL: Another gin for me.

AVA: Drinks for the lonely men coming up.

DYLAN THOMAS sits at the table. He lights a cigarette.

EZRA LOWELL: I’m Ezra Lowell, company manager of Ezra Lowell Cars Limited.  I have six car showrooms throughout New York and I’m planning to set two up in Boston next year. I own two properties in Greenwich Village, which of course is the more genteel part of Manhattan.  

DYLAN THOMAS: I’m Dylan Thomas, company manager of various poems and stories. I don’t have a car and I don’t own a single property. I live in Laugharne, which is not even shown on a map of Wales.

EZRA LOWELL: I take it sarcasm is part of a poet’s baggage?

DYLAN THOMAS: I prefer to call it the Welsh wit when it comes to words.

EZRA LOWELL: So what do you think of our Manhattan?

DYLAN THOMAS: All is (emphasising) now in this city! It’s gaudy carnival of neon lights calling all to worship mammon. Its canyons of skyscrapers threatening the ceiling of the night. Car horns going into battle with each other. Traffic flooding the avenues and people flooding the sidewalks. It’s as if a dream and nightmare have got into bed together. Is this the madness before the second Fall of mankind?  

EZRA LOWELL: Are you serious? This is the greatest city in the greatest country in the world.

DYLAN THOMAS: And money electrifies this buzzing, massive fairground! Ah, the heart is a green dollar! Even I, an overweight and word-burdened poet, have a beer-cleansed belly of hunger for it. The need for money sings among the rhyming lines in my mind. Money for Caitlin, oh my lioness of a wife. Money for our little litter of children, and money for me as poor as a public bar mouse.

Why have I come once more to this insomniac city, to parade my roar of a voice in the judging-eared halls, to be tortured by the educated questions of the sweet salaried academics? Ah, a pocket’s bulge of tempting dollars as green as envy!

EZRA LOWELL: Very fancy words, as expected from the likes of you.

AVA places their drinks on the table.

AVA: Enjoy!

EZRA LOWELL: Wouldn’t a proper job feed and clothe, what did you say, your litter of children?

DYLAN THOMAS: Each man and woman contributes to this blessed planet. If you need an electrician, a poet is of no use to you. If you need a poem, an electrician is of no use to you.  We all serve a purpose. You sell cars. I sell poems and stories, dear man.

EZRA LOWELL: You can’t be serious in comparing your contribution to society to that of a nine to five worker? (He downs a mouthful of his drink).

Ava, would you rather go out with an electrician with a regular salary and a Chevrolet or an impoverished poet?

AVA: Most gals I know like a guy with a load of dollar notes, but I like the thought of a poet writing love poems all about me, and whispering romantic words in my ear!  (She laughs loudly). Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (She laughs again). We did that one in college!

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