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Popular radio show records at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea

By MarkRees  |  Posted: May 10, 2013

Gillian Clarke

Gillian Clarke

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In a rare excursion into South Wales, BBC Radio 4's Bookclub headed to the Dylan Thomas Centre for a special recording of its long-running programme.

With each episode listened to by over a million people, the popular monthly series, which in the past has featured the likes of Iain Banks, Bill Bryson and JK Rowling, came to speak with the National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke about her TS Eliot prize shortlisted poetry collection Ice.

Produced by Dymphna Flynn and presented by Today stalwart James "Jim" Naughtie, the recording date was actually delayed by a few weeks due to an unexpected development which resulted in James being sent to Italy.

"It was Swansea or Rome," explained James when apologising for his late arrival after being sent to report on the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and the subsequent appointment of his successor

Or, as Gillian joked, it was "the poet or the pope?"

The consummate professional, James was patient, witty and friendly, and was the perfect host in a beautiful, relaxed environment, far removed from the studio setting where one might normally expect such a show to be recorded.

"I feel so at home here," he said of Swansea. "The way Gillian talks about the past, it reminds me of my own roots and background. I recognise the love for language and storytelling in the area, and that makes me feel alive."

The small gathering of book lovers who were lucky enough to get their hands on one of only 25 tickets available were treated to a wonderful insight into the creative processes of one of our most celebrated wordsmiths.

"I can't play rugby, I can't play football; but I can do words, so I write it for those who want words" explained Gillian of her chosen career path growing up in Wales.

Gillian answered all of the questions posed to her with a refreshing honesty and openness, and expressed her admiration for Swansea's own superstar poet Dylan Thomas, who she claimed "changed poetry in the English language," as well as her personal favourite, RS Thomas.

The evenings recording was wrapped up with a charming question from a youthful poetry fan who posed to Gillian that, now that she'd written a collection called Ice,  would she consider writing a follow-up called Sun or Scorcher? Or didn't the Welsh climate allow much inspiration for such a book to be written? To which Gillian replied that "I would never want to live in a warm country!"

With the exception of some ambient noises from the city outside, everything ran smoothly in what a successful discussion, and hopefully the first of many visits to the city from the programme.

BBC Radio 4 Bookclub featuring Gillian Clarke is available to listen to online as a podcast here. Previous episodes are also available in the archive here.

Mark Rees

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