The Radio 4 Psalter



Michael Symmons Roberts describes the beauty of Psalters and sets out to make his own for radio.

The classic medieval Psalter was an often highly illustrated collection of the Psalms, sometimes placed together with other religious texts and tracts and surrounded by visual and textual references to local life. These texts played a extremely important role at the centre of community worship - a value illustrated by the fact that in 2013, the Bay Psalm Book, the Psalter created by early European settlers in America, sold at auction for over fourteen million dollars and became the most expensive book in history.

For Michael Symmons Roberts, Psalters have played a highly prominent role in his recent career. Inspired by the drysalter store he kept noticing in Macclesfield where he lives, he went in search of the Macclesfield Psalter - a classic of the type - only to find out it in fact had nothing to do with the town. Undeterred, he set about writing his most recent collection based on the idea of 150 poems each with fifteen lines, following the Psalter model. That book, Drysalter, has now won numerous prizes.

Still though, Michael is keen to offer up a new Psalter for radio, rooted in his home town using the voices of people there to read Psalms that will frame expert commentary from the likes of Professor Diarmaid Macculloch and Susan Gillingham.

Following the tradition that saw Psalters provide inspiration for people to respond in the margins, Michael will also commission a new piece of music inspired by the Psalms, as well as a drawing from prize winning illustrator Chris Riddel - all with a view to illustrating the profound beauty of the Psalms and the Psalters that housed them.

Producer: Geoff Bird

A Sparklab production for BBC Radio 4.