Main content

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts takes us on a journey to reveal our complex relationship with the car and how it means much more to us than getting from A to B.

The poet Michael Symmons Roberts takes us on a journey to reveal our complex relationship with the car and how it means much more to us than simply getting from A to B.

"Cars have only been around for a century," he reminds us, "but in that short span of time they have not just become ubiquitous in our towns and cities, but a permanent fixture in our cultural and metaphorical landscape. Why has the car grown into such a potent symbol, and what does it point to in ourselves and in the world?"

In a search that includes fast cars, car crashes, sat navs and the car wash, Michael reveals that our vehicles have even entered our spiritual psyche - something he doesn't find that surprising. He explains, "It doesn't seem odd to me to find cars cropping up in mystical or religious stories or imaginings. There's something about the combination of the car as a sealed-off private space, like a monastic cell, and as a way of crossing great distances that lends itself to that treatment."

Illustrating his journey with the poetry of Colette Bryce, Les Murray and Seamus Heaney, along with the music of Schubert, Janis Joplin and Tracey Chapman, Michael celebrates the mystery and meditative quality of driving and wonders, with the help of playwright and screenwriter David Mamet, whether the second coming itself might be by means of a mid-sized sedan.

Presenter: Michael Symmons Roberts
Producer: Michael Wakelin
A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

18 days left to listen

28 minutes

Last on

Sun 11 Aug 2019 06:05

Music Played

  • Janis Joplin

    Mercedes Benz

  • Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

    Short Ride in a Fast Machine

  • Tracy Chapman

    Fast Car

  • Franz Schubert

    Winterreise D. 911, Erste Abteilung: Gute Nacht

    Performer: Leif Ove Andsnes. Performer: Ian Bostridge.
  • Judy Collins

    Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord

  • Liam O’Flynn

    The Foxchase


Title: Glad of These Times

Author: Helen Dunmore

Publisher:  Bloodaxe Books


Title: Portrait of the Artist as a New World Driver

Author: Les Murray

Publisher: Carcanet


Title:  Against Narrativity

Author: Galen Strawson

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons


Title: Mythologies

Author: Roland Barthes

Publisher: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux


Title: Car Wash

Author: Colette Bryce

Publisher: Pan MacMillan


Title: The Original Accident

Author: Paul Virilio

Publisher: Polity Books


Title: The Museum of Accidents

Author: Paul Virilio

Publisher: Columbia University Press


Title: Humbles

Author: Frances Leviston

Publisher:  Pan MacMillan


Title: Postscript

Author: Seamus Heaney

Publisher: Faber and Faber