Aeronwy Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Gianpiero Actis, Immagine & poesia, Lidia Chiarelli

Aeronwy Thomas:

Aeronwy Thomas, photo by  Martin Holroyd (Wikipedia)



            Music has been much used in Shakespeare’s works so why not Dylan Thomas’?

             I will try to make an incomplete but impassioned case why music and poetry including poetic prose as used in my father’s play for voices, Under Milk Wood, can well do without the addition of music.  My suffering in this regard should prove part of the case.

            Ever since I returned to England in 1970, I have been approached by modern composers to listen to Fern Hill or more obscure poems arranged to music.  My first experience was to be approached by an earnest American graduate who wished to use “If my head hurt a hair’s foot” in an original musical composition, using the words as a loose lyric for the music.  In those early days returning from a long stay in Italy, I must have been somewhat naïve.  I agreed to accompany him to the recording studio where his pre-recorded composition was overlain somehow onto a reading of the poem.  Last minute, I was informed that the reader would be me and requested a moment to look at the poem.  A more obscure poem about a child’s fear of causing his mother pain in birth could not have been chosen from my father’s poems.  For me the meaning was almost impenetrable at such short notice so that I must have read it clearly but without understanding.  This was no problem as the music was dominant and drowned the words effectively.  The young artistic entrepreneur then revealed his plan.  Because I had read the poem no royalties would be expected as a beneficiary.  The reason that poem and a couple more had been chosen for the recording was that it was little known to the general public and therefore doubly immune to the payment of royalties.  In any case, the young man told me, he’d spent his last dollars on the recording and was sleeping on friends’ sofas as a result.  I had a sinking feeling that this sort of situation was going to be inevitable now that I was living in London and not in faraway Sicily or even Rome.  Cheap flights to these destinations were still to happen in the future.

     My foreboding was increased when asked to read “Fern Hill” at a public function for the Welsh Development Corporation.  It would take place at the Hilton and feature clog dancing and harp playing which made me slightly uneasy.  However, the fee of £30.00 was an inducement and I turned up in a long cotton Laura Ashley dress and a copy of Dylan’s Selected Poems.  Immediately before I closed the evening with my reading, a band of merry clog dancers filled the floor and skilfully demonstrated how you can dance in uncomfortable wooden shoes.  I would have to change the mood skilfully  and dreaded being helped by the except the harpist.  I was lucky that time as the harpist topped and tailed by did not over-ride the poem with a tinkling waterfall of background musak.

    That occasion kick started my own poetry performance career and I was asked by any number of different organisations to give a reading of my father’s poems. Included were literary festivals and groups as well as entertainment spots at art galleries or even book launches of biographies about my father.  My constant dread was to be requested (after all the arrangements had been made) would I mind a quiet musical accompaniment as I read

the poems.  My fear was often justified as three piece flautists or recorders drowned the words.  By the end, I had to ask that the musical interludes were just that… a musical item between not during poems.  Nowadays, unless it is a reading abroad with translations so that Fern Hill can take 10 minutes to read with its translation, I insist the music is kept to three slots: beginning, interval and end.

     Under Milk Wood, a play to be heard – but mostly seen, integrates songs into the text with words by my father and music by his friend, Swansea composer Dan Jones. These seem to work very well and give a little break from the richness of the text in so much that the words are song-like in scansion and use simple, often childlike words.  The director Michael Bogdanov was the first to add Welsh folk songs for the glee party mentioned in the play to great effect.  Nearly all the productions I see nowadays include additional music such as the UMW Jazz suite by  Stan Tracey directed by Malcolm Taylor, a veteran of these productions, played as the audience settles itself and during the interval.  These productions I can only recommend but I have also suffered all singing and all dancing(the expression used by one of the performers of Under Milk Wood. On a slightly higher level one hopes, The Welsh National Opera has also approached the literary trustees to sing Under Milk Wood.  I await the outcome. 

     Returning to my experiences abroad, I have now new artistic decisions to make regarding my own poetry.  As a result of teaching creative writing to school children in Turin, one of the teachers, Lidia Chiarelli Actis (who later became my official translator) introduced me to her husband, a part-time painter, Gianpiero Actis. He was keen to illustrate some of my poems and in this way we have to date had dozens of exhibitions based on Word and Image.

The local civic council became involved and subsidised events in which painters all over Turin were invited to illustrate a surreal poem of mine, The Object.  The response was surprisingly positive with nearly a hundred painters of every imaginative style taking up the invitation. Lidia, herself a poet, has also experimented with a Canadian artist who works over the internet.  I wouldn’t be surprised if music will be part of future collaborations.


     In conclusion, I have to admit that the cross-fertilisation of the different arts: words, illustration and music can work if thought out and executed sensitively. This appears to contradict my initial assertion that music and poetry (and as it happens images) cannot enhance each other.  They can and do as experience has taught me.


Khế Iêm

SAD CONFIDENSES, essay by Khế Iêm, Vietnam



Khe Iem

Human beings are born with sufferings: birth, aging, sickness and death. That is natural for all species – except for humans with super hearts and minds, who create civilizations and violent wars, destroy civilizations which humans have created, and who massacre the innocents. But what about the ancient times?

A miraculous story about a monk name Ngo Dat1 is still being passed down by tradition. Ngo Dat monk was an intelligent man, with talents in literature. During the era of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (810-859), Ngo Dat was summoned to the capital to preach, and he was awarded the honorable name of Venerable Shaman. One day, the monk met a bhikkhu, the venerable teacher Kana­kavatsa2, who had been incarnated to the world to redeem living beings. The bhikkhu had scabies, and was dying on the side of the road and no one dared to come by. But the monk felt sorry for the bhikkhu and thus made a food offering. Not long afterward, the bhikkhu said goodbye and told Ngo Dat, “I’m from Sichuan. If you ever get any illness in the future, please come to Jiu Long Mountain, in Peng Zhou, Sichuan Province, to find me. There you will find two very tall trees with big, round shades.”

A few years later, Ngo Dat became Chamberlain for Ceremonials of the court and was well respected by the king and mandarins. He was living a hedonistic life and he had become arrogant. Then oneday, on his knee suddenly appeared a growth like a human face, with a nose and mouth.The growth made the monk suffer much pain. Physicians from many places could not treat him. Then, sud­denly, the monk remembered the words of the bhikkhu and went to Jiu Long Mountain. When the monk met the bhikkhu, the bhikkhu said “Please don’t worry. There’s a mountain here, and be­low the mountain cliff is a spring of water. Whoever is sick needs only to use this spring water to wash, once and he or she will be healed. It’s already dark now why don’t you rest, and I will take you to the spring tomorrow morning to wash “your knee”.

Early the next day, when the monk was about to wash his knee, the growth shouted, “there’s no need to wash. I have important infor­mation to tell you. You are well read, but have you read the story of Yuan Ang killed Chao Cuo in the Western Han Classics?” The monk answered, “I have read them.” (Yuan Ang and Chao Cuo were both politicians at the court of Han Emperor Jing and were against each other. In the 2nd year of Emperor Jing, before the year 155, Yuan Ang used tactics to kill Chao Cuo in the west city.)

The growth said, “You were Yuan Ang in your past life, and I was Chao Cuo. One day because of words, you slaughtered me across my back and “killed me” at west city. That was so unjust. From that day on, I have been trying to seek revenge, but, sadly, I did not have an opportunity because, after ten lives, you’re a veteran bonze of high virtues. In this lifetime, you are much favored and have earned many grand awards by the Emperor. Hence, your greed is sprouting, causing your righteousness and high moral to fade, which allows me a chance to make you sick. Now I hope that the venerable Kanakavatsa uses the holy Sarcasm water to wash you and help heal you, thus also helping me to be greatly promoted. From now on, you and I are no longer holding grudges.”

The monk after hearing the story, his hairs stood up as he was frightened. He then scooped water to clean the growth. He felt such an excruciating pain deep into his marrow and bone that he fainted. The monk finally woke up for a very long time before he was conscious. Then the growth was gone, but there was no sign of the bhikkhu. The monk paid homage and gave thanksgiving. The monk returned to the capital and wrote the “Samadhi Water Repentance”, which contains three volumes, as a tool for followers and believers to repent their ill karma.

This story of ancient China lets us know that everyone is a sinner, if not a lot then at least a little. The Book3 stated, “An ordinary man is guilty every time moves his feet “. Body, speech and inten­tion4. In human life, sins are found within three things: ill karma is caused by sadness; because of ill karma humans must suffer pain and grievances. Thoughts and interactions cause sadness. Billions of people, hence billions of different thoughts and intentions; there are no correct thinking or intentions. And, when an inten­tion or thought arises, then both body karma and verbal karma with body karma also arises. Indulging in or desiring material or sensual pleasures produce the taints of the mind with disturbing desires. Anger or frustration produce the taints of the mind with harmful afflictions. Superiority-conceit cause the taints of the mind with haughtiness and thus arrogant afflictions. Human be­ings are forever drowning in the worldly life full of miseries due to their habits of covering up sins. If humans know to repent, then there will be no more sin.

But the Covid-19 virus lets us know, with millions of people be­ing infected and almost a million have passed away, that all are innocents. If humans are innocent and still suffering, then they are also pitiful. We are already lucky being born as humans; thushappiness or suffering are essential, as they help us to know who we are in this life. Humans all have an ego (a self), big or small depending on one’s happiness or suffering. Sufferings let us feel that we have sins. If humans have sins then humans must repent. Repenting will not create envy or jealousy. Without envy or jeal­ousy, our souls and hearts will be at peace. A peaceful heart will mind other people’s pain and sufferings, will discover selflessness, will have a forgiving heart, and will be to help everyone. Seeing no one suffering, one then will feel happy. Thus, like French writer Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) wrote, “Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss”. When hungry, we should enjoy eating whether the food is good or bad. These aspects are normal except when we are fasting to cure an illness or stimulate our intelligence. But, when people are starving because of circumstances such as a poor environment or crop failure, their pain and suffering are extreme. someone with help would bring tremendous happiness.

“Pain and suffering are friends, and tribulations are teachers.” Thus, should there be a need for pain and suffering? Right hemisphere involve emotions, intuitions, subconsciousness, creativity, holistic perception, present and future. Left hemisphere involve analysis, logic, knowledge, orders, events, explanations, acknowledgement, present and past. In the daily life, left-brain dominant people are more pessimistic and have great verbal communication skills, and right-brain dominant people endure more and are less competi­tive. Scientists have a balance of both dominances. But, with true artists, creativity is dominant in the right brain, and artists thus tangle with feelings than non-artists. And these feelings are the roots leading to pain and suffering. If there’s no pain and suffering, then how can one have feelings to create works of art? Everything has a price. The more the fame or popularity, the more the attacksand thus the more tolerance for suffering. There are even enemies from within and rivals outside.

All human beings are born, and all wish for happiness and to live a meaningful life. Conversely, pain and misery make life meaning­less, and human being has the tendency of motivating the needs to find meaning of life. Historians record more about the great wars, crimes and tragedies of history than about the eras of peace and wealth. Psychologists emphasize illness, failures and mishaps more than success and joy. Novels portray the details and events of life which everyone wants to read about, even if they have happy end­ings, but very few novels have happy settings. Instead, the settings of novels are about crimes or family issues, pushing humans to pain and suffering. To recover, people can find certain meanings to resolve these issues, perhaps, walking into the world of creative arts, or living a spiritual life of ecclesiastical.

Thus closes the door of Sad Confidences.

Wednesday, Sept 2nd, 2020


(1) The name Ngộ Đạt means Achieved Enlightenment

(2) Kanakavatsa

(3) “Samadhi Water Repentance” book

(4) There are three types of Karma: Body, Speech, and Mind (or Inten­tion). Or we can also think that actions of the body, speech, and mind create Karma.

Fernando Salazar Torres

“Tanta Luz” poema de Fernando Salazar Torres (México). Traducción y arte de Lidia Chiarelli (Italia)


Demasiada luz dentro de mi pecho

y otro amanecer más camina.

Muy temprano a lo largo del desbordamiento

mis ojos son tan del color del horizonte,

que les caben el abismo, sí, la oscuridad,

y no de tanto soñar se muere, sino se respira!


Más lejos de aquella línea horizontal

un mundo me divide y me deja,

y aquí, nada espera, solo la muerte.


Hay tanta luz

que de esperanza sentí dolor y angustia.

Esta vida es la fuente de otra luz.


Hay harta claridad en mí,

tanta, que me ahogo de cielo y Dios.


Sí! Allá, al otro lado de la mirada,

más allá de estos ojos que me abisman,

el sol cubre mi alma de otro cuerpo.


Troppa luce nel mio petto

e un’altra alba si incammina.

Molto presto in quella dispersione

i miei occhi sono così simili al colore dell’orizzonte

che si adattano all’abisso, sì, all’oscurità,

e non si muore per tanto sognare, ma si respira!


Più lontano da quella linea orizzontale

un mondo mi separa e mi abbandona,

e qui, nulla attende, solo la morte.


C’è così tanta luce

che  dalla speranza ho sentito dolore e angoscia.

Questa vita è la fonte di un’altra luce.


C’è così tanta chiarezza in me,

così tanta che sto annegando nel cielo e in Dio.


Sì! Là, dall’altra parte dello sguardo,

oltre questi occhi che mi inabissano,

il sole copre la mia anima con un altro corpo.


Fernando Salazar Torres: (Ciudad de México). Poeta, crítico literario, ensayista y gestor cultural. Licenciado en Filosofía por la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Iztapalapa (UAM-I). Maestría en Teoría Literaria (UAM-I). Estudia el Doctorado en Literatura Hispanoamericana en la Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) con estancia de investigación en la Universidad de Salamanca (Usal). Ha publicado el poemario Sueños de cadáver y Visiones de otro reino. Su poesía y ensayos se han publicado en distintas gacetas y revistas literarias impresas y electrónicas. Su poesía ha sido traducida al inglés, italiano, catalán, bengalí y ruso. Director de la revista literaria Taller Ígitur Coordina las mesas “Crítica y Pensamiento en México” y “Diótima: Encuentro Nacional de Poesía”. Dirige el Taller Literario “ígitur”. Colabora en la revista literaria “Letralia. Tierra de Letras” con la serie de poesía mexicana “Voces actuales de México” y “Poesía española contemporánea”. Forma parte del equipo de colaboradores de Caravansary. Revista Internacional de Poesía (Colombia), la cual forma parte del sello Uniediciones. Es miembro del PEN Club de México.