LitFest Reviews - Chapter One: Michael Symmons Roberts' poetry reading
The poetry reading by Michael Symmons Roberts last Thursday evening (September 27) at the College, was - predictably - an excellent start to this year’s Marlborough LitFest.
Symmons Roberts read several pieces from his much praised recent collection Mancunia and then continued to engage his audience by thoughtfully answering the wide-ranging questions asked of him. The majority of these came from the many Sixth Form students present. Here’s a glimpse of some of topics discussed:
The poet’s collaborative work with the composer James Macmillan prompted this question: “Is there a discernible musicality in your poetry that composers respond to?”
Symmons Roberts replied: “Some composers can run roughshod over the rhythm of poetry, particularly if the poems form the libretto of an opera. But James Macmillan is empathetic to the inherent rhythm in poetry. We have worked a lot together and I hear his music in my writing”.
Asked when he began writing poetry, Symmons Roberts remembered a time at primary school, aged about six, when the class was asked to write a poem, and there was something about using words in a concentrated way that he really enjoyed. There was a freedom in not having to tie up the loose ends of sentences. One could just think about the words.
He soon became ‘the school poet’. In his late teens, three poets 'lit his blue touch paper: Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas and especially John Berryman.
Question: “Should poems be read or heard?”
When asked about the public role of poetry, Symmons Roberts reflected on the fact that we don’t have a 'novelist laureate'. Poetry can meet the need we have to express deep feelings in words, and the need we have of a form of ritual.
He went on to consider the role of theatre and film. Although verse drama was once at the centre of English writing, it is now non-existent. Indeed, today it might well be more possible to write a successful verse-film than a verse-play.
All told, the evening was one not only of beautifully crafted poetry, but also of stimulating discussion. Excellent value. Mancunia by Michael Symmons Roberts is published by Cape.