Michael Symmons Roberts

Photo: Michael Symmons Roberts at Rough Trade © I'veReadThat

Michael Symmons Roberts, whose collection Drysalter (Jonathan Cape) won the 2013 Forward Prize for Best Collection, is a former atheist who converted to Catholicism at university. The book’s title refers obliquely to the Psalter, a kind of mediaeval day-book in which psalms jostled with jokes, cartoons and marginalia: it contains exactly 150 poems, the same as the number of psalms in the Bible.

Symmons Roberts was born in 1963 in Preston, and became a journalist on graduating from Oxford. He writes for radio,  makes documentary films and collaborates with composers. He has also worked closely with the scientist John Sulston, who inspired him to write poetry about mapping the human genome.

Drysalter is his fifth collection of poetry. Adam Newey in his Guardian review of Drysalter says the book “requires…a willing suspension of agnosticism” and praises Symmons Roberts’ “determination to confront dogmatic atheism”.

“Like a latter-day Blake or Stanley Spencer, Symmons Roberts places his revelatory imagery within a defiantly ordinary, contemporary setting, which both hints at its transcendant strangeness and brings that strangeness down to earth,” writes Newey.

Symmons Roberts admires John Donne, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore and John Berryman. Every poem in Drysalter is fifteen lines long: the next challenge, he says, will be to “force myself to write a poem with a 16th line.”

‘The Vows’ from Drysalter has proved popular: watch Natascha McElhone read ‘The Vows’ at the Forward Prizes 2013 Awards Ceremony and Helena Bonham Carter reading the poem on the new app The Love Book.