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Michael Symmons Roberts has published five collections of poetry, including Corpus, which won the 2004 Whitbread Poetry Award and was shortlisted for the Forward, T.S. Eliot and Griffin International Prizes. He has also published two novels, Patrick's Alphabet (2006) and Breath (2008), and a non-fiction book Edgelands (2011, with Paul Farley) which won the Jerwood Prize and the Foyles Book of Ideas Award. He is a frequent collaborator with the composer James MacMillan (their opera for Welsh National Opera, The Sacrifice, won the RPS Award) and is also an award-winning radio writer and documentary film-maker.
Winner of the Costa Poetry Award 2013. This is Roberts' most expansive writing yet: mystical, philosophical, earthy and elegiac. Drysalter sings of the world's unceasing ability to surprise, and the shock and dislocation of catching your own life unawares.
From Dylan Thomas's eighteen straight whiskies to Sylvia Plath's desperate suicide in the gas oven of her Primrose Hill kitchen; from Chatterton's Pre-Raphaelite demise to Keats' death warrant in a smudge of arterial blood, the deaths of poets have often cast a backward shadow on their work. The post-Romantic lore of the dissolute drunken poet has fatally skewed the image of poets in our culture. Novelists can be stable, savvy, politically adept and in control, but poets should be melancholic, doomed and self-destructive. Is this just an illusion , or is there some essential truth behind it? What is the price of poetry? In this book, two contemporary poets embark on a series of journeys to the death places of poets of the past, in part as pilgrims, but also as investigators, interrogating the myth.
Shortlisted for the 2017 T. S. Eliot Prize Longlisted for the 2019 Portico Prize PBS Autumn Recommendation Mancunia is both a real and an unreal city. In part, it is rooted in Manchester, but it is an imagined city too, a fallen utopia viewed from formal tracks, as from the train in the background of De Chirico's paintings. In these poems we encounter a Victorian diorama, a bar where a merchant mariner has a story he must tell, a chimeric creature - Miss Molasses - emerging from the old docks. There are poems in honour of Mancunia's bureaucrats: the Master of the Lighting of Small Objects, the Superintendent of Public Spectacles, the Co-ordinator of Misreadings. Metaphysical and lyrical, the poems in Michael Symmons Roberts' seventh collection are concerned with why and how we ascribe value, where it resides and how it survives. Mancunia is - like More's Utopia - both a no-place and an attempt at the good-place. It is occupied, liberated, abandoned and rebuilt. Capacious, disturbing and shape-shifting, these are poems for our changing times.
This selection of the best poems from six remarkable collections reveals that all the strength and sensuality and strangeness is in there from the start. This is a metaphysical poetry for our age: rooted, steeped in the physical, but stretching for lyric completion, philosophical clarity, emotional truth. These poems achieve their seriousness not through hectoring argument but through their lightness of touch, their wit, their tenderness, their music. Roberts has always been a poet who, in the words of Lavinia Greenlaw, 'inspires profound meditation on the nature of the soul, the body, the stars and the heart, and sparks revelation'. He is also formally and thematically diverse, restlessly exploring a wide range of subjects from Cold-War fear to love lyrics, genetics to elegies, always returning to the crucial, elemental themes - the mapping of experience and the search for meaning. After Drysalter, his double-prize-winning tour de force, we now have this opportunity to observe the whole arc to date: the consistency of grace and power, curiosity and risk, passion and intelligence that - together - make Michael Symmons Roberts such a thrilling and essential poet.
The wilderness is much closer than you think. Passed through, negotiated, unnamed, unacknowledged: the edgelands - those familiar yet ignored spaces which are neither city nor countryside - have become the great wild places on our doorsteps. In the same way the Romantic writers taught us to look at hills, lakes and rivers, poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts write about mobile masts and gravel pits, business parks and landfill sites, taking the reader on a journey to marvel at these richly mysterious, forgotten regions in our midst. Edgelands forms a critique of what we value as 'wild', and allows our allotments, railways, motorways, wasteland and water a presence in the world, and a strange beauty all of their own.
When Corpus won the Whitbread Poetry Award, the judges described it as 'an outstanding, perfectly weighted collection that inspires meditation on the nature of the soul...reading it feels like making an exciting discovery and coming back to an acknowledged classic all at once.' Michael Symmons Roberts' first book, Soft Keys, was the original and most exciting discovery of all. The poems in Soft Keys engage in a search for meaning and order in the everyday and in the extraordinary - a locust officer tracking swarms in an African desert, a hobbyist building a replica of the world out of matchsticks, a chance encounter with the French mystic Simone Weil playing video games in a Torquay arcade... Richly inventive, and written in a wide diversity of poetic forms, Soft Keys looks for those places and moments where the curtain between earth and heaven is thinnest; it was a powerful, arresting debut and the beginning of a remarkable career. As Les Murray said at the time: 'Like Nijinsky, he can leap into the air and stay there. You can reach up and feel the thump of the stage finely persisting in an ankle bone. Roberts is a poet for the new, chastened, unenforcing age of faith that has just dawned.'
In a country recovering from a brutal and divisive civil war, a young boy, Jamie, is knocked off his bike and dies in a city street. His father agrees to allow one of Jamie's lungs to be removed and flown over the border for a transplant. As the night unfolds and the plane travels across the war-ravaged country, we see the drama from three different perspectives: the father, grieving for the son he perhaps never knew well enough; the lung's recipient, an old man fighting for breath; and in the turbulent sky between them, the young pilot who is closest to Jamie - or at least to his breath, his spirit, his voice.
The poems in Michael Symmons Roberts's fifth collection move in a world riven by violence and betrayal, between nations and individuals. As ever, this is a metaphysical poetry rooted in physical detail - but the bodies here are displaced, disguised, in need of rescue. A man in a fox suit prowls the woods afraid of meeting true foxes, while a vixen dressed as a man moves among the powerful at society soirees. God no longer 'walks in his garden in the cool of the day', but drives through a damaged city in the small hours. At the same time a couple celebrate armistice with an act of love in an anonymous hotel room. As the judges of the Whitbread Prize noted, Roberts' poetry 'inspires profound meditation on the nature of the soul, the body, the stars and the heart - and sparks revelation.' Roberts is a poet of unusual range and dexterity, fascinated by faith and science, by the physical and the transcendental, and with this new book he confirms his position as a truly original, and thrillingly gifted, lyric poet.
When a teenage couple are found murdered in their car, a boy called Adam Sligo is the only suspect. The letter A is found blazoned on the wall at the murder scene and is soon followed, around town, by the other letters of the alphabet, each immaculately painted in red. What do the letters mean? Is Sligo playing games with the police? Or putting a spell on the town? Perry Scholes is mixed up in all this from the start: a man haunted by cars and death - and photographic images of both. He trawls the motorways and edgelands listening to police radio, getting to the car-crash or the crime scene before them. He makes a living selling these shots to the papers. He is the one who spots the painted letters, and begins to document their appearances. As the town is paralysed by fear and paranoia, a vigilante cult emerges, arming itself for the battle against evil. Perry finds himself trapped in a nightmare. A killer is at large, and the alphabetical messages he leaves seem to be personal messages for him.
The ancient accounts tell us that Jesus could calm storms with a word, feed thousands with just a few scraps of bread and fish, walk on water, cure the sick and even raise people from the dead. In this enlightening book - an official tie-in to the major BBC1 3-part television series presented by Rageh Omaar - Michael Symmons Roberts examines many of Jesus' miracles in the context of 1st century Galilee. He reveals that Jesus' miracles were full of hidden meanings and shows how, by cracking this ancient code, we can come to a deeper understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth really was - a healer, a prophet or the long-awaited Messiah and Son of God? Rights to this series have also been sold to the Discovery Channel. 'What made Jesus' miracles stand out for the people of his time was not that God had acted in the world, but that God had acted in the world in very particular and significant ways. For twenty-first-century westerners, its is not so easy. To us miracles can seem less like a language and more like a code. But it is not an uncrackable code.' - Michael Symmons Roberts
Corpus - Michael Symmons Roberts' Whitbread-Prize winning fourth collection - centres around the body. Mystical, philosophical and erotic, the bodies in these poems move between different worlds - life and after-life, death and resurrection - encountering pathologists' blades, geneticists' maps and the wounds of love and war. Equally at ease with scripture (Jacob wrestling the Angel in 'Choreography') and science ('Mapping the Genome'), these poems are a thrilling blend of modern and ancient wisdom, a profound and lyrical exploration of the mysteries of the body:' So the martyrs took the lamb./ It tasted rich, steeped in essence/ Of anchovy. They picked it clean/ And found within, a goose, its pink/ Beak in the lamb's mouth like a tongue.' Ranging effortlessly between the physical extremes of death - from putrefaction to purification - and life - drought and flood, hunger and satiation - the poems in Corpus speak most movingly of 'living the half-life between two elements', of what it is to be unique and luminously alive.
After his first collection - SOFT KEYS - Michael Symmons Roberts was hailed by Les Murray as 'a poet for the new, chastened, unenforcing age of faith that has just dawned'. The metaphysical concerns of that first book are central to this new collection, written in a language at once philosophical, sensuous and lyrical. From a doctor who washes lungs to the structure of genes, from mythical hounds born to fire to a cat's-eye souvenir from a smashed-up road, the scope of this collection is impressive. Whatever the subject, these poems are concerned with elemental themes, with the mapping of experience, and the search for sparks of life at its heart. At the heart of RAISING SPARKS are two sequences - 'Smithereens' and 'Quickenings' - which form part of a continuing collaboration with the composer James MacMillan; the former set as a song cycle and the latter as amajor choral piece. These sequences - alongside intamate lyrics and dramatic meditations on creation, redemption and the end of time - show a poet of enormous range and depth.