I do the walk right across Rest Bay with Minhinnick. This is surprisingly successful given the condition of my muscles. Rob is pointing out the local landmarks and giving me a running gazetteer of their Welsh-medium place names – Gwter Hopsog, Gwter Gryn-y-locs, Bae Pinc. These places feature in his books, are inspiration points for plot turns in his novels. We’re heading out beyond the surfers’ paradise of the Lifeguard Station towards Sker Point. There are sea caves there with rocks that are full of lights.
Most people know Robert as a poet – recently successfully back on the scene reading with Sean O’Brien for William Ayot’s Poetry On the Border series at Chepstow and again for Ali Anwar’s H’m Foundation – but his recent successes have been essays and fiction. Sea Holly, his novel of Porthcawl low-life set among the dunes and the Treco Bay Caravan Park was short-listed for the Ondaatje Prize. And there’s a sequel in production.
Poetry, however, remains an obsession. Carcanet Press will bring out a new and revised Selected Minhinnick next year and Seren have a full length literary study of Robert’s work set to follow. 2012, Minhinnick year and well overdue.
Many people know Robert for the years he edited Poetry Wales. Forty-three issues, enough to bend the enthusiasm out of the most dedicated verse obsessive. Poets have thin skins, we agree. Sensitive souls ready to fall on the slightest misconstrued word as a signal of failure and of rejection. I can remember all this from days as editor of second aeon. I did twenty-one issues, less than half Robert’s total, but that was enough to tell me all I needed to know about how poets think of themselves. Nobody has any confidence it seems. Every previous success was somehow a fluke and the new work a desperate trial to see if the trick can be repeated. If the plan falters then the end of the world starts to loom. Poets want instant gratification, bangs on the back and their names in lights. Nothing less will do.
Performance poets are worse. Here the gap between the work and fulfilling exaltation has been reduced from perhaps weeks to something like seconds. The poet stands up, the poems get read and the audience react. If they don’t then the piece clearly hasn’t achieved its objective. But I think we need to remind ourselves here that some work, in fact a great deal of work, needs just that bit longer than a single out loud reading to give up its glories. By the same token much material provokes no response simply because no audible or visible response is actually appropriate. Not everything in life is designed to make you laugh or whoop. Some things burn slowly, from the inside.
Robert Minhinnick’s current book, launched this coming week, is The Keys Of Babylon (Seren) a set of linked short stories that cover much of Robert’s concerns with the end of dictatorships, the life of the planet and wider sustainable world. It isn’t poetry but then again in a way it is. Any instant gratification going on? Certainly not.
From Sker Point you can see over Kenfig Burrows and right up the coast to Port Talbot. It’s the end of October and the sun is still shining like it was summer. Soft seas out there and hardly a breeze. On this long and fragmented estuarial walk I’m ultimately bound for Gower. Worms Head. Standing on Sker Rock I can almost see it. But it’s too far. We turn back and do the return ramble into Porthcawl instead. Surf’s up. The gulls over Rest Bay are cawing.