Words on the page, Words in the head
To conclude a recent series on translations and adaptations, poet Michael Symmons Roberts describes how he dramatises sacred or classic texts for broadcast
I like many other poets, I have always felt at home writing for radio. It is all about the intimacy of a radio voice, the words on the page becoming the words in your head. Writing for broadcast can take many forms, but one of the most rewarding for me has been adapting classic texts for wide audiences. In 2018 I was commissioned by the BBC to dramatise Milton’s Paradise Lost for Radio 4. The production - starring Sir Ian McKellen as Milton and Simon Russell Beale as Satan - was well received and later released as a Penguin audiobook. What Milton’s Paradise Lost offers is a combination of profound vision, great ambition and some of the finest poetic lines ever written. My job was to try not to get in the way, to adapt and dramatise Milton’s masterpiece so that those qualities came through.
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