Sustainable Wales co-founder shortlisted for 2017 ts eliot prize

Co-founder, and Charity Secretary, Robert Minhinnick has been shorlisted for the 2017 TS Eliot Prize.

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Focus on Shortlisted Poet - Robert Minhinnick


Robert Minhinnick’s poetry has been influenced by his lifelong commitment as an environmental campaigner. He co-founded Friends of the Earth (Cymru) and became the organisation’s joint co-ordinator for some years. He is advisor to the charity, 'Sustainable Wales' and edits the international quarterly, Poetry Wales.

Robert Minhinnick was born in 1952 in South Wales, where he still lives. He is the prize-winning author of four volumes of essays, more than a dozen volumes of poetry and three works of fiction. His poetry collections include The Looters (1989) and Hey Fatman(1994), both Seren. A Selected Poems was published in 1999, followed by After the Hurricane (2002), King Driftwood (2008) and Diary of the Last Man (2017), all published by Carcanet. He has twice won the Forward Prize for Best Poem.

Reviews

“Robert Minhinnick's new collection confirms his status as one of the most important poets of these turbulent times. Bleakly elegiac, environmentally political, vital and visionary, his poems cast an extraordinary light over our darkening landscapes.”
- Carol Ann Duffy

“I am not vital to this world’, Robert Minhinnick declares in Diary of the Last Man. His new poetry collection is a hymn to ‘this world’, as well as a warning about what might happen if we continue to abuse our natural surroundings.  It is also a complex meditation on the idea of home and belonging, explored through carefully crafted, and often extremely beautiful, poems. The first of these, a poem sequence, lends the collection its name. In the vein of much speculative fiction, Minhinnick imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which only a few people have survived…

“It is in observing these cycles of sea and river, human and animal, that Minhinnick most excels, and his collection as a whole is beautifully and acoustically attuned to what is most precious in our lives and around us.’
New Welsh Review

“Minhinnick is one of the few poets who writes about a dockyard or a hedgerow with equal authority... A friend of mine once said that he liked to think of R.S.Thomas as ‘just being there’: outside the media hubbub, steadily producing wonderful poems. Although Minhinnick's considerably younger, and more cosmopolitan in scope, I'd say the same about him.”
- Poetry London

 

You can catch up on our video interviews and readings with Tara Bergin, Caroline Bird, Douglas Dunn, Leontia Flynn and Roddy Lumsden on the T. S. Eliot Prize website.

 

Poetry from Diary of the Last Man


'Morphine'

for Howard Bailey

All that’s in my head is in my head.
Try to notice Neptune, the poet said,

but there’s a mist outside, white on a white sky,
warm air across cold sea, turning the world invisible.

Morphine is a sister, is a saint.
In our blood and history they’ll trace the taint,

while all I see is the needle plunge,
or the golden-green, green-golden

draught in the eye-dropper
turning the world invisible.

Now a waitress brings the tables in.
I ask her for a napkin

and she comes across to the only customer
talking to himself and writing signs

like the moon and stars, the comet’s lines,
as if they could light up the gloom,

or the churning fret that hides the Seagull Room
and turns the world invisible.

I’m just the latest mad bastard to make her day.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to stay.

Yet all this dark matter is in my head,
and Howard, now you are forever dead,

and morphine’s still a sister and a saint
and an executioner. Too early for a cool carafe?
Let this eye-white fog then be your epitaph.

John Field Reviews the Shortlist: Robert Minhinnick


For the 2017 Prize, we’ve asked poetry blogger John Field to review the shortlisted titles again. This week, John concludes that Diary of the Last Man “presents an unsentimental, indifferent world, filled with cruelty and atrocity but, while there may be no Jesus in Minhinnick’s geology, there is no shortage of beauty and, filtered through the sands of his language, this beauty is arresting and memorable.”
 
In Diary of the Last Man, Robert Minhinnick meditates on environmental apocalypse before training his eye on Anglo-American atrocities in Iraq. Finally, he offers translations from Welsh, Arabic and Turkish. Minhinnick’s poems are a virtuoso display: reminiscent of Gerard Manley Hopkins or Dylan Thomas, bringing the sounds of Welsh poetry to English. He also writes with the force and indignation of Shelley’s ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ as he attacks the obscenities of war.

‘The Diary of the Last Man’ is a sequence of 23 poems, perhaps indicating that, for humanity, time is running out and will be cut short. Loneliness and uncertainty dominate as the speaker muses "Perhaps / I am the last man", with the line break highlighting his doubt as he hums his "hymn of sand". Minhinnick suggests the deadness of the world as the sands of time run fast through humanity’s emptying glass. "Hum my hymn of sand" repeats consonants in the same order, akin to Welsh cynghanedd, resulting in an arresting formality and beauty. The collection enjoys a Protean musicality as sounds morph and shift as they sift through Minhinnick’s hourglass: "Slack? / Slake? / Lake? / Meres and mosses and mirrors and mortuaries". Some might see environmental catastrophe as an unmitigated disaster but Minhinnick’s second poem, ‘Snipe’ presents "Two of them, two lines of barbed wire / across the sky, two voices" and, for once, humanity is outnumbered as nature begins to reclaim the planet.

Another sequence, ‘Mouth to Mouth: A Recitation Between Two Rivers’ alternates between prose and poetry and is reminiscent of William Dyce’s painting ‘Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858’. Dyce’s figures scuttle, dwarfed by the geological strata in the cliffs and, above, Donati’s comet, with an orbital period of roughly 1,739 years, crosses the sky. Sand, "formal as fossils", drifts through Minhinnick’s poem and its shifting landscape renders it an "unchronicled country". The landscape is indifferent and insatiable as the dunes swallow human history and Minhinnick’s deer echo Ted Hughes’ ‘Roe Deer’: "two shamen praying to the lightning god, / or so they might well be in this unearthly light".
The ‘Amiriya Suite’ memorialises the bombing of an Iraqi public air raid shelter by the United States Air Force in 1991, killing hundreds of civilians. In the first part, end-stopped lines accent the poem’s cutting bitterness: "One body with four hundred souls / is exposed in a photographic flash. / They pick the wedding rings and wisdom teeth / from crematorium ash" and the facts of the event are re-read as obscene ironies: "Think of a smart bomb. / Not so smart". In the rest of the sequence, Minhinnick gives us unrhymed couplets, suggesting that nothing hangs together in a world of lies and sexed-up dossiers, where "a farmer had written nuclear formulae / on the skin of a watermelon".

Towards the end of the collection, his translations of Erozcelick Seyhan invite us to reconsider the temporal sands running through ‘Mouth to Mouth’ and the ‘Amiriya Suite’. Here, "we rise like incense through the sky, / people who become a plume of smoke". The translation echoes Psalm 141, "May my prayer be set before you like incense" but, for Minhinnick, "there is no Jesus in geology" and nature will just have to make do.

Diary of the Last Man presents an unsentimental, indifferent world, filled with cruelty and atrocity but, while there may be no Jesus in Minhinnick’s geology, there is no shortage of beauty and, filtered through the sands of his language, this beauty is arresting and memorable.

Published by Carcanet

Published by Carcanet

Refugees - Texts written at the Ty Newydd Writing Centre, March 2016

Texts written at the Ty Newydd Writing Centre, Llanystumdwy, Cricieth, Gwynedd, 17.3.16.

Authors: Sarah Blake, Emma Ormond, Kaye Lee, Yuko Adams, Camilla Lambert, Jennie Bailey, Barry 

Tutor: Robert Minhinnick

I don’t know where we lost her. She isn’t here. That is all I know. Maybe it happened right at the start. I don’t remember how. I carry on conversations with her in my head. I don’t mean to. Thoughts slip into her. Mud on my boots. Numb hands. I talk to her every day here. I remember her hand holding mine inside her coat pocket on the way to school. I remember sitting at her feet, watching her draw. Her hands have oval nails and there are plump lines in her palms. How soft she was. I remember the face cream trace she left in the air and how she always burned the onions. Never had the patience to let them sweat slowly, turn sweet and yielding in the pan.


My jumper is made of links,

rough and bubbled, sutures

of thin thread that cannot

close the wounds underneath

which are only superficial on the surface on the surface

buried in it my nose unearths

dirt, sweat. Hope, petrol and apples,

the taste of cold stone and vinegar

as I are them,

the wool creaks, stiff from its journey,

shedding grit and dirt,

remnants carried with me from home.

I will never let it be washed.


These trousers would steam

if I ever found somewhere warm.

They still have the salty grit

of two days on a boat

and tonight I’ll keep them on

when we lie down under the sheets

of plastic, our make-do home.

I can’t pray anymore, my head and my heart are sodden, too many uncried tears, saltier than

Aisha’s sea-wet jacket – the jacket

that her granny wrapped round

her shoulders as we climbed into the truck.

I wish I could sleep – a few hours -

to dream we’re back home,

to forget the razor wire

that tears us to shreds

if we try to move on.


I come across a rose

That is standing in a front garden

On my way to nowhere.

I sniff and smell the scent

but it is too meagre

as I cannot step in.

In the next town I arrive

I may find another rose

but I don’t think I can smell it.

It’s somebody else’s rose

growing from somebody else’s soil

I cannot grasp.


Mehemet has woken up crying

like last night and the one before.

His head is hot like a burnt potato.

At home we’d fetch the pink medicine

from the bathroom cupboard, tuck the quilt

my mother made, scraps of red and brown

from her mother’s village, soothe him.

He’d be better in the morning.

Here, no medicine, once we’d used up

the stuff they gave us near the fence,

no quilt, just a pile of all our clothes,

smelling of mud, a musty, cheesy smell.

I am lying on my side again, I feel

In my pocket for the crooked house key:

It fits my fingers like it always did.

It’s getting light, earlier now, invading

through the cracks in the tent,

won’t be kept out, allow one more hour

of not remembering. The others

are moving about, a few curses from

those Aleppo people, different consonants,

same whine in the nostrils.

It’s raining again.


My heart still beats fast. I have just woken up, but remain curled up under my old army greatcoat on what I think is a slate floor. The cold slate causes me to roll over on to my other hip. I cannot feel my left shoulder, but hopefully it will get better circulation now I have moved.

I can hear the clatter of cattle hooves, this could be a farm. I wonder if I should look for a drink of water, or risk seeking out someone to help me.


I have counted

  red ants that slip into my sleeping bag.

I have counted

  stars in a snowglobe sky.

I have counted

  degrees downward to freezing.

 

This evening I saw

  children clustered in feathered clothes around fires.

This evening I saw

  blood sunset over the Jungle.

This evening I saw

  shield beetle man beat women with black batons.

 

In the morning

   perhaps swallow blue ribbons instead of black flags.

In the morning

   perhaps a weak sun will waken wings.

 

 

 

New Podcast - HappenStance comes to the Green Room

A new audio podcast from The Green Room -

 

More podcasts can be found on our podcast player or at SoundCloud. They can be downloaded for listening offline.

HappenStance Press Comes to Porthcawl

Poet and editor of HappenStance press Nell Nelson travels from Fife to Porthcawl to launch two new books by Welsh poets.

'Unleaving' is the first collection of poems by Kristian Evans, a writer and artist, originally from Bridgend, who currently lives among the dunes at Kenfig on the south Wales coast with his wife, two sons and a border collie. A close observer of the expressions of the natural world, and its dialogue with poetic tradition, his work is nonetheless willing to take risks and test our conventions. Even in his prose, there’s poetry, the borderlines blurred and burnished. He is the author of the popular Kenfig Journal.

Stephen Payne’s day job is in academic cognitive science. He is currently Professor of Human-Centric Systems at the University of Bath. He’s always been fascinated by language and lyric, and here, in his first full length collection, 'Pattern Beyond Chance', scientist and poet meet and strike sparks. It’s no surprise to encounter poems that think, and think about thinking. They’re playful, provocative and lyrical, and the poet’s continuous pleasure in sound and pattern is curiously infectious.

Nell said, ""How lucky and lovely it is to have debut publications from two excellent Welsh poets at the same time! It's a delight to be launching HappenStance books in Wales -- for the first time, but definitely not the last."

Originally recorded in November 2015, more podcasts (with Twm Morys) soon.