Minhinnick, Robert

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MINHINNICK, Robert


Nationality: British. Born: Neath, Glamorgan, Wales, 12 August 1952. Education: Bridgend Grammar School; University College, Cardiff, 1978–82, B.A. 1981, M.A. 1982. Family: Married Margaret Bates in 1977; one daughter. Career: Has worked as a clerk, postman, salvage worker, and teacher, 1971–84; manager of Glamorgan Heritage Coast, environmental program, 1984–85; writer-in-residence in Mid-Glamorgan, 1985–86. Since 1986 environmental education worker, Friends of the Earth, Porthcawl, Mid-Glamorgan. Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1980; Welsh Arts Council award, 1980, 1984; John Morgan literary award, 1989. Address: 11 Park Avenue, Porthcawl, Mid-Glamorgan, Wales.

Publications

Poetry

A Thread in the Maze. Swansea, Christopher Davies, 1978.

Native Ground. Swansea, Triskele, 1979.

Life Sentences. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Poetry Wales Press, 1983.

The Dinosaur Park. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Poetry Wales Press, 1985.

The Looters. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1989.

Hey Fatman. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1994.

Badlands. Bridgend, Wales, Seren, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1996.

Selected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1999.

Other

Watching the Fire Eater? Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1992.

A Postcard Home: Tourism in the Mid-'Nineties. Llandysul, Gomer, 1993.

Editor, Green Agenda: Essays on the Environment of Wales. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1994.

Editor, Drawing Down the Moon: Poems and Stories 1996. Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1995.

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Critical Study: "Two Kinds of Poetic Thought: Robert Minhinnick and John Davies" by Richard Poole, in Anglo-Welsh Review (Aberystwyth, Wales), 88, 1988.

Robert Minhinnick comments:

My poems are simply the statement of a man declaring an interest. They examine the process of living, while hopefully contributing to it.

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A sense of place and a sense of the past are the closely interrelated twin themes predominant in the work of Robert Minhinnick, and from these he patiently evolves his own mythology "on native ground." In "The Strata" excavations evoke the activity of another Welsh poet, working here six centuries earlier, and prompt the impulse "to fashion with blunt words my own design." The "rooky archaeologist" of "The Midden," "history's black / Sediment … under [his] nails," likewise digs for the past in quest of a shared genealogy. Minhinnick apprehends the presence of "time's hidden strata" everywhere: in the wave-battered Atlantic promontory of Sker and the primeval agelessness of rock and turbulent water that "seems to fall out of a fierce past," in "The Force," in the "medieval" cries of owl and nightjar, and in the ghosts that haunt ruined places—an abandoned quarry, locomotive yard, or even garage.

The potent spell of the past persists in the poet's own life too. Recapturing the feel and flavor of his early experience with sensuous precision, Minhinnick works the seam of boyhood memory as profitably as did Seamus Heaney in his early work. The pungency of ivy, an authentic "odour of childhood," recalls the atmosphere of that vanished world: of flight from the gamekeeper and his dogs, "fright hot as nettlerash," stealing unripe fruit from the orchard and "the sour exhilaration of that sin," hide-and-seek in the graveyard among "the dead in their dormitory," the savagery of the ritual village pig killing, the sharp grief of loss in "After a Friendship." Especially memorable and moving are several affectionately detailed cameos of his grandfather in poems like the fine "Native Ground" and "Ways of Learning" and in "Drinks after the Funeral" and "Grandfather in the Garden," with seeds "like ammunition in his hands."

Minhinnick's relish for human personality emerges from his various portraits drawn from both rural and industrial South Wales, which he knows with equal intimacy. "That axe-wielding man," Reilly the gardener, and estate workers sitting among freshly sawed logs stacked "like new loaves, the smell as sweet," keep company with the ganger, whose "sweat bursts from his skin like tar-blisters," and the tough mother of "hard-skinned miners / Kicking a pig's bladder on the coal-slip." Poems like "Old Ships," "Salvage," and "Profile in Iron" vigorously delineate the Cardiff dockworkers, for whom "the dialect / Of iron is more powerful than psalms." The loneliness of the beery racing man with a genuine love of horses is observed with sympathetic perception as well as visual vividness. So, too, are his bemused drinking companions—"pub-fixtures" like "gargoyles carved from the bar's stained wood."

This simile serves to illustrate the impact of Minhinnick's imagery, which is as strikingly individual in his observation of nature as of people: in his lovingly meticulous scrutiny of plants in "Herbals," of grasshopper and dragonfly, or of "the strange night turbulence of eels … / Inscribing circles on tar-black water." He watches "a crown of foam winking / Like beer-froth" on the sea, wheeling swifts "swastika the sky," and the winter constellations' "archipelagoes of light" and shadow "stamping bone-coloured frosts / And grass as stiff as canvas."

Minhinnick handles language with a controlled economy that at the same time conveys the impression of powerful energy in leash.

This blend of technical assurance with an imaginative intensity bred of his self-confessed "violent need to praise" make him one of the most interesting and accomplished poets writing in Wales today.

—Margaret Willy

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Minhinnick, Robert

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