About Michael Symmons Roberts

Michael Symmons Roberts (b. 1963) is the author of four collections of poetry, and won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry for his most recent book, Corpus.

Roberts is a lyric poet with philosophical and metaphysical concerns. These are strongly evident in a poem like ‘Jairus’, which is charged with a sense of the miraculous. That poem also shows Roberts’ skill at rooting the miraculous in the everyday; while the miracle of Jairus’ daughter being revived by Jesus is presented matter-of-factly, human hunger is lingered over in the advice to “forget the herbs, she has an aching / fast to break”.

The human body – its organs, its urges, its existence now and after death – is another element regularly found in Roberts’ work, particularly in the interwoven sequences ‘Carnivorous’ and ‘Food for Risen Bodies’ in this reading, and related aspects of science and medicine are recurrent themes too. ‘Mapping the Genome’ and ‘To John Donne’ both examine modern genetics; ‘The Lung Wash’ hyperbolises the medical practice, inventing “the only doctor in the world / who washes lungs”, so that it leads its patient to a state of purity where “Everything you say is sudden poetry.”

That patient has been referred to as “you” throughout the poem; many of Roberts’ seem to talk directly to the reader, or, here, the listener. As Robert Potts, in the Guardian, writes, “He reflects on the world in a way that is informed by a sense of grace, of transcendence, but the pieces are grounded in detail, beautifully expressed, subtly luminous.” His reading style matches this ideally, so that stories of the marvellous are presented modestly, casting miracles as if in passing conversation, yet keeping the miraculous present.

Apart from his work as a poet, Roberts is a novelist, and a librettist working extensively with composer James Macmillan on operas, song cycles and choral works. He is also an award-winning maker of documentaries for television and radio.

His recording was made on 24 August 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Michael Symmons Roberts

Pelt - Michael Symmons Roberts
Jairus - Michael Symmons Roberts
Corpse - Michael Symmons Roberts
The Lung Wash - Michael Symmons Roberts

Books by Michael Symmons Roberts

Awards

1988

Eric Gregory Award

Prize website
2001

Poetry Book Society Recommendation

Prize website
2002

Sandford St Martin Premier Award

Prize website
2003

K Blundell Trust Award

2004

Jerusalem Trust Award

Prize website
2004

Poetry Book Society Recommendation

Prize website
2004

Whitbread Prize for Poetry

Prize website
2007

Arts Council Writers Award

Prize website
2008

Clarion Award for Radio Drama

Prize website
2008

Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards [with James MacMillan]

Prize website
2009

Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction [with Paul Farley]

Prize website
2012

Fellowship of the English Association

Prize website
2012

Foyles Best Book of Ideas Award

Prize website
2013

Poetry Book Society Choice

Prize website
2013

Forward Poetry Prize Best Poetry Collection of the Year

Prize website
2013

Costa Book Award in Poetry for Drysalter

2014

Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website
2016

Poetry Book Society Special Commendation

Prize website
2017

Poetry Book Society Recommendation

Prize website
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