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This review is taken from PN Review 128, Volume 25 Number 6, July - August 1999.


Michael Symmons Roberts is one of the Sons of Les. That is, he has taken up Les Murray's challenge to write an overtly Christian poetry. Partly this is due to Roberts' training in philosophy and theology and his current position as a religious affairs producer for the BBC. Partly it's due to the opportunities which he sees in Murray's rich advocacy of the Welsh tradition of praise poetry. This is what sets Roberts apart from that other prominent Son of Les, Harry Smart. Where Smart sees the historical dimension of faith, Roberts is more likely to discuss theological concepts head on. Thus Roberts writes about redemption, grace, and the sacramental but is also able to write about affliction.

Roberts works these concepts through in vivid imagery and with a careful and adroit technique. He has also learnt from Murray that this kind of poetry cannot succeed unless it is worked out in close reference to people's lives. In his first book, Soft Keys, Roberts had sequences about Simone Weil, and a group of survivors clinging to life on a small Welsh island. In this new book, redemption occurs in the much anticipated visit of a stranger ('Why we are still waiting') and when Roberts revisits his childhood as if an outsider returning to a displaced world ('Siblings'):

My key will fit, despite its rust; I will step
into the hall and hear the lullabies upstairs,
you my newborn sister learning what the ...

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