Dylan Thomas’s first collection of poems 18 Poems was published. Seen here on Dylan’s desk is a ‘true’ first edition, first issue, first printing of his life changing book. It had finally come to fruition from many years of meticulous craft and hard work from the surroundings of his tiny bedroom and Father’s study and was about to set him on his course as one of the greatest poet’s of the twentieth century.
Dylan however, would have to wait until January to read the first of a steady stream of encouraging reviews..
1934 had been a busy year for Dylan Thomas, his work being accepted and published in The New English Weekly, Adelphi, New Verse, John O’London’s Weekly, New Stories, The Bookman, Criterion, and the BBC’s Listener. One of Dylan’s key admirers and regular publishers was ‘The Sunday Referee.’
How the ’18 Poems’ came to be….
The Sunday Referee had launched their ‘Poets Corner’ feature in April 1933 inviting contributions with the line of ‘We care nothing who holds the stylus’. A deluge of poems would flood into the Referee and tasked with selection was literary journalist Victor Neuberg. On September 3rd 1933 he selected Dylan’s That Sanity Be Kept and described it as ‘the best modernist poem as yet I have received.’ On October 29th 1933 he also published Dylan’s The Force That Through The Green Fuse and called it ‘cosmic in outlook….a large poem, greatly expressed. Dylan became a staple poet of the Referee in 1934 with a further five poems crafted by the young man from Swansea featuring in the publication.
As a result of the adulation of Dylan’s poetry from Neuberg and the editor Mark Goulden it was decided that the young poet from Swansea would have a collection sponsored by the newspaper. Dylan was to be the second in what the Sunday Referee envisioned to be a long line of prize poets. The first was a young lady from the London upper middle classes, Pamela Hansford Johnson. Dylan and Pamela had struck up a correspondence after his poem from 3rd September had been printed.
Publication of the book had been a drawn out affair with the Referee newspaper encountering difficulty finding a commercial publisher for it. Eventually David Archer of the Parton Bookshop, a young man with a love of poetry, who owned a bookshop and occasionally printed books agreed to help. Above all, David Archer had a desire to help young poets succeed. It was finally published on 18th December 1934. 500 copies of the book were produced with only 250 of them being bound at the time of publication. The cost of the book was 2s.6d. The book was published as a joint effort with The Sunday Referee periodical and the Parton Bookshop sharing the printing costs. The Referee provided £30 and the Parton Bookshop £20
*What happened to the other 250 unbound copies of the book? They were bound up and made available on February 21, 1936 and made up the second issue of the book*
18 Poems consists of…
I see the boys of summer
Where once the twilight locks
A process in the weather of the heart
Before I knocked
The force that through the green fuse
My hero bares his nerves
Where once the waters of your face
If I were tickled by the rub of love
Our eunuch dreams
Especially when the October wind
When, like a running grave
From love’s first fever
In the beginning
Light breaks where no sun shines
I fellowed sleep
I dreamed my genesis
My world is pyramid
All all and all
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