Robert Minhinnick discusses his latest work, Diary of the Last Man – a collection that Carol Anne Duffy has described as ‘Bleakly elegiac, environmentally political, vital and visionary… cast[ing] an extraordinary light over our darkening landscapes.’
What’s central in the book is ‘Mouth to Mouth: a Recitation Between Two Rivers’. Seren Books founder, Cary Archard drew attention to this long poem in his speech at the launch. I recall hitting on the title sitting hungover in a branch of Barnes & Noble on Broadway.
A film, also titled ‘Diary of the Last Man’ has been made by Park6 of Bristol, and will be screened at a series of events in London and Wales this autumn.
Part prose, part poetry, ‘Mouth to Mouth…’ is something I had been working on for years, based on expeditions into the dunes between the mouths of the Cynffig and Ogwr rivers.
Sand is ubiquitous in ‘Mouth to Mouth’, as it is in Diary of the Last Man as a whole. What sand both conceals and reveals has been a preoccupation of mine since moving to Porthcawl in 1977.
The book begins with the title piece, comprising twenty-three short poems. This shattered narrative has climate change as its basis, and depicts a walk across Wales and England from Pontlotyn to Brighton.
The volume also contains a section called ‘Aversions’, my collection of translations from the Welsh, Arabic and Turkish.
I have to thank ‘Literature Across Frontiers’ and its Welsh equivalent here, especially Alexandra Buchler and Sioned Puw Rowlands. Meeting authors at Crear (Jura, Scotland) and Zichon Yakouv (Israel) was a tremendous stimulus.
I cannot pretend my ‘aversions’ are ‘faithful’ but they attempt to recreate the essence of the originals in English. I especially recall wonderful conversations with Nese Yasin in Israel.
Nese’s poems are in Cypriot Turkish, and I have nothing of that language. But she explained what the poems are ‘about’ and I endeavoured to render them imaginatively in the new language. We agreed that literary ‘translation’ should be far more than copying one language into another.
Likewise, Marwan Makhouls’s Arabic. At the time Marwan owned a Ford Mustang, and I recall our vivid expedition to Haifa. Later, I used the Mustang-driving poet as basis for a story in The Keys of Babylon, my prose collection.
Asked by Sioned Puw Rowlands to translate Karen Owen’s Welsh, I agreed when I saw her poems included ‘Iwan’, an elegy for Iwan Llwyd, who had become a friend. Iwan and I had travelled together in the USA and Brazil and was a favourite of my daughter and her husband.
I hope my next collection will contain more aversions, especially from the Welsh and Somali.
Here, they share the volume’s concern with rhyme, song and music. This is exemplified early on in ‘Suite for Children’s Voices and Moog Theremin’, three poems recorded by children for live performance and played by musician Peter Morgan though his keyboards, at the launch events.
Peter also performed on ‘The Sand Orchestra’, the long poem that concludes the book.
‘Diary of the Last Man’ is also political, with ‘Amiriya Suite’ drawing on my time in Iraq. Visiting Baghdad and Babylon has permanently infiltrated my writing, both prose and poetry.
I’m grateful to Carol Ann Duffy, who supplied an endorsement for Diary of the Last Man, and with whom I worked on ‘Suite for Children’s Voices’ at Monaick Mhor in Scotland.
Robert Minhinnick is a prize-winning poet, novelist, short story writer and essayist. He has won Wales Book of the Year and the Forward Poetry Prize. He has read at literary festivals around the world. Diary of the Last Man is published by Carcanet.
Copyright © Robert Minhinnick, 2017. Image © Eamon Bourke, 2017.