Chamberlain, R. (2007) ‘Pale Signature’: lyric and life-writing in Dylan Thomas’s early poems. Paper presented to: Life Writing in Wales (Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Association for Welsh Writing in English), Gregynog Hall, Newton, Powys, Wales (University of Wales), 30 March - 1 April 2007.
Focusing in particular on ‘In the beginning’, this paper asks how autobiography informs, and is transformed by, Dylan Thomas’s ‘obscure’ early poetry. It invokes notions of ambiguity and ‘damaged life’ in examining the poem’s implicit argument that the processing and shaping of personal experience is both problematic and inevitable. Unsettling traditional associations between perspicuous or mimetic personal histories and the formation of collective identities – whether national or class-based – and anticipating problems around his own later autobiographical style, Thomas in 18 Poems seeks to replace the sincere lyric utterance with a radically decentred ‘life-writing’ which questions the limits of the traditional self whilst salvaging from the ruins an element of unrepeatable human singularity.