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.'
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The poems are highly accomplished, constituting an intelligent, courageous attempt to write a contemporary religious poetry, one where God and videogames co-exist. This is very hard to do, but the voice of Soft Keys is genuinely contemporary; the best poems are lit with finely-nuanced details which the imagination can relish. A poem such as 'The Telex' is sure, strange, beautifully judged -
I love Michael Symmons Roberts' poetry. He is a religious poet in a secular age. His work is about connection between the things of the spirit and the things of the world. And his work is about transcendence -
An outstanding writer - Sunday Times
Michael Symmons Roberts' poems are intense and sensual explorations of the moment when the soul quickens to some ice-cracking life. The Christian faith gives Roberts' work an iconography, a deep well of symbolism, that links him with poets like David Jones or Geoffrey Hill. Like them, his work exists to errode whatever conceals that glinting mica of truth... through language at once precise and excitingly resonant -
Michael Symmons Roberts has published five collections of poetry, including Corpus, which won the 2004 Whitbread Poetry Award and was short-listed for the Forward Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize, and The Half Healed (2008). He has also published two novels, Patrick's Alphabet (2006) and Breath (2008). He is a frequent collaborator with the composer James MacMillan and is also an award-winning radio writer and documentary film-maker.