Open Mic at the Imperial Hotel, Merthyr Tydfil with Robert Minhinnick.

“Robert Minhinnick is the leading Welsh poet of his generation” – The Sunday Times.

Robert Minhinnick (b. 1952) is a writer and environmentalist; his book Watching the Fire Eater, which combined these interests, was named Welsh Book of the Year in 1993. He edits Poetry Wales, and founded both Friends of the Earth Cymru (Wales) and Sustainable Wales. He has received a John Morgan award for his prose, Gregory and Cholmondeley awards for his poetry, two Arts Council of Wales Literature Prizes, and has won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem twice, for ‘Twenty Five Laments for Iraq’ and ‘The Fox in the National Museum of Wales’.

Both of these are long poems, and Minhinnick has also been drawn to the sequence, such as ‘La Otra Orilla’ and ‘Lives of the Saint’, which are represented in this performance with generous selections. They let us see how the form reflects his environmental concerns; each poetic element as one co-existing with others in the habitat of the whole piece, which must become capacious to allow the relations to show fully. His subject matter, certainly, is often drawn from the environment and its (ab)use – his paean to ‘St John’s Sunflowers’, growing in his allotment in Porthcawl, has the eponymous flowers appearing superior to humans, whether they be “Royal Highnesses” who have been awaiting their attention or the scientists responsible for the fact that “In Babylon the sunflowers / are yellow as uranium.”

The environment is not romanticised, as shown by the observed encounter of a sparrow and a sparrowhawk in ‘Paradise’ – in this poem, from a now-clear sky, “one drop of blood / has fallen on my hand”. Nor does Minhinnick’s focus preclude other interests; political issues are clearly important to him, as the title alone of ‘Twenty-Five Laments for Iraq’ demonstrates. ‘La Otra Orilla’ is grounded in the power of words and the powerlessness of the silenced; ‘The Yellow Palm’ is concerned with violence “on Palestine Street”. This poem, unusually, runs to a tighter, song-like metre that Minhinnick ascribes to Auden’s influence in his introduction to the poem.

Minhinnick’s poems resonate in his compelling reading, his unhurried manner underpinning their precise forces. This recording shows him marrying grace and passion, confirming the Sunday Times’ description of him as “the leading Welsh poet of his generation”.

Supported by Literature Wales