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.’
Awards for Soft Keys
Society of Authors’ Gregory Award
Extract from Soft Keys
Annunciation at the Hookses
With or without wings he is coming
at incredible speed from everywhere
to this baking terrace – to here –
as she pours herself an ice-cold drink
outside a house that rocks on cliffs.
She wears shades, flakes in a deckchair.
A red crescent dries above her lip.
O Gabriel make her waking as gentle
as the eye-blue of a distant sail.
Still she’ll drop her half-full glass
in shock and joy at what you ask.
With a choked-up ‘yes’ it all begins-
the afternoon sea will leap and scale
the cliffs to offer its obedience.
The sun will nuzzle like a pet
at her ankles, and in that twilight
shells will sing the vespers of love,
and momentarily across the globe
the day will check in mid-stride
like it’s just stepped off a tube,
looking for bearings, the way up and out.
Contents of Soft Keys
Angel of the Perfumes
Messiaen in Gorlitz 1940
The Botanical Gardens
JWs in NSW
Hosea Thomas in the Realm of Miracles
To Skin a Tree
Simone and the Unknown Friend:
I Video Games with Simone Weil
II Front-Line Nurses
III Apple Fool, April Fool
IV Simone’s Last and First
Wasps Carry off the Memories of an Old Woman
I A Definition
III Gulls Going Home
IV In Company
V In the Weeks Before War
VI St Patrick Cross
VII Annunciation at the Hookses