In 2003, Martin Rees referred to the present as “mankind’s final century.” A few years later, Slavoj Žižek wrote that humankind is heading towards “apocalyptic zero-point,” when the ecological crisis will most probably lead to our complete destruction. In his 2017 collection, Diary of the Last Man, Welsh poet Robert Minhinnick offers readers a meditation upon Earth at a liminal moment—on the brink of becoming completely unpopulated.
Imagining a solitary human being, living in the midst of environmental collapse, Minhinnick yet entwines different voices—human and non-human—operating across vast spans of time. The speaker of the poems moves freely through different geographies and cultural contexts, but the voice that starts and ends the journey, seems to be the voice of the poet himself: he is the last man on earth, a survivor of ecological disaster.
The paper discusses Minhinnick’s collection as a projection of the world we now inhabit into a future where it will exist only in the form of nostalgic memories. The analysis focuses on the role of objects in the construction of the world-within-the poem, where the fragments of human civilization are being claimed by forces of the environment—engulfing sand, progressive erosion—forming a retrospective vision of our “now” which will inevitably become our “past.”
Robert Minhinnick, Welsh poetry, memory studies, ecology
Arts and Humanities | Social and Behavioral Sciences
Alexander, Neil. “Shorelines: Littoral Landscapes in the Poetry of Michael Longley and Robert Minhinnick.” The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures. Ed. Ursula Kluwick and Virginia Richter. London: Routledge, 2015. 71–86. Print.
Bate, Jonathan. The Song of the Earth. London: Picador, 2000. Print.
Cassin, Barbara. Nostalgia: When Are We Ever at Home? Trans. Pascale- Anne Brault. New York: Fordham UP, 2016. Print.
Claeys, Gregory. Dystopia: A Natural History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2018. Print.
Cunningham, Peter. “Victorian London Entertainment and Recreation Clubs—Travellers Club Handbook of London, 1850.” Victorianlondon. org. The Victorian Dictionary. Web. 25 May 2018.
Dillon, Brian. “A Short History of Decay.” Ruins. Ed. Brian Dillon. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2011. 10–19. Print.
Evans, Suzannah V. Rev. of Diary of the Last Man, by Robert Minhinnick. Newwelshreview.com. New Welsh Review Jul. 2017. Web. 20 Apr. 2019.
Gregson, Ian. The New Poetry in Wales. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2007. Print.
Impert, Laura, and Margaret Rubin. “The Mother at the Glen: The Relationship Between Mourning and Nostalgia.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 21.6 (2011): 691–706. Tandfonline.com. Taylor and Francis Online 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 5 Mar. 2019.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. London: Bodley Head, 1986. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. Interview by Eamon Bourke. Walesartsreview.org. Wales Arts Review Jul. 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2019.
Minhinnick, Robert. “Mouth to Mouth: A Recitation Between Two Rivers.” Diary of the Last Man. Manchester: Carcanet, 2017. 25–52. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “Nocturne.” Diary of the Last Man. Manchester: Carcanet, 2017. 9. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “Nostalgia.” Diary of the Last Man. Manchester: Carcanet, 2017. 13. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “Oyster Shells.” Diary of the Last Man. Manchester: Carcanet, 2017. 8. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “Prophecy.” Diary of the Last Man. Manchester: Carcanet, 2017. 7. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “Questions of the Woman who Fell.” After the Hurricane. Manchester: Carcanet, 2002. 26–29. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “Salvage.” Selected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, 1999. 12–13. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “The Cormorant.” King Driftwood. Manchester: Carcanet, 2008. 7–8. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “The London Eye.” Diary of the Last Man. Manchester: Carcanet, 2017. 12. Print.
Minhinnick, Robert. “The Sand Orchestra.” Diary of the Last Man. Manchester: Carcanet, 2017. Print.
Rees, Martin. Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century—On Earth and Beyond. New York: Basic, 2003. Print.
Simmel, Georg. “The Ruin.” Ruins. Ed. Brian Dillon. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2011. 10–19. Print.
Volkan, Vamik D. “Individuals and Societies as ‘Perennial Mourners’: Their Linking Objects and Public Memorials.” On Death and Endings: Psychoanalysts’ Reflections on Finality, Transformations and New Beginnings. Ed. Brent Willock, Lori C. Bohm and Rebecca C. Curtis. London: Routledge, 2007. 42–60. Print.
Wilson, A. N. “Home of Victorian Ghosts.” The-tls.co.uk. The Time Literary Supplement 23 Jan. 2019. Web. 23 Apr. 2019.
Žižek, Slavoj. Living in the End Times. London: Verso, 2010. Print.