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Boozing with the Best at the Guardian

By Harriet Staff

Dylan-Thomas

Blake Morrison at the Guardian has been pondering one of the eternal mysteries of literature: Why do writers drink? “Does it help writers to drink? Do they drink any more heavily than any other social group – doctors, lawyers, shop assistants or (see Mad Men) advertising executives?” Hmmmm, not sure. We do know that such questioning easily gets caught in a chicken-and-egg routine, so we’ll leave it up to you to head to the article to see how Morrison untangles the question. But we cannot help to imbibe, and sample some words about one of our favorite hard-drinking poets Dylan Thomas:

Recent research suggests that Dylan Thomas might not, after all, have drunk himself to death. What his doctor in New York took to be delirium tremens and treated with morphine may have been bronchitis and pneumonia, which morphine injections only made worse – after the third of them, he went into a coma. Still, there’s no doubt that Thomas had been drinking heavily in the days leading up to his admission to hospital – indeed for large periods of his life. The previous day he’d opened a bottle of Old Grand-Dad whiskey and offered a glass to the maid cleaning his hotel room. Then, after more drinks with his lover Elizabeth Reitell, he left his bed at 2am and went to a bar, telling her on his return that he had drunk 18 straight whiskies.

Thomas was prone to exaggeration. He once bragged that he had drunk 40 pints of beer, and a character in his Adventures in the Skin Trade claims to have drunk 49 pints of Guinness straight off. According to the bartender who served him that fateful night, Thomas drank only six or at most eight whiskies, not 18. But American measures are twice the size of British ones. And his health had suffered over the years from alcohol and cigarettes: as well as having gout, emphysema and a fatty liver, he was physically exhausted through insomnia. The diagnosis on his admission to St Vincent’s, alcoholic encephalopathy, might have been wrong, and with different treatment he might have recovered. But it wasn’t as if he hadn’t been warned.

Thomas’s death is the stuff of legend, and it’s no surprise to hear that a TV film, with a script by Andrew Davies, is being made about it, to coincide with the centenary of the poet’s birth next year. Part of the legend, no matter how false, is that American hospitality is what killed him – the innocent from Britain goes on a lecture tour, is tempted to taste the Big Apple, then falls. Behind the Thomas story, though, is an older myth, that poetry and alcohol go together, as complementary means to achieve transcendence…

We’ll let you trans-descend through the rest of the article, here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, July 22nd, 2013 by Harriet Staff.