23 March 2017, The Tablet

Down to a sunless sea

The Stately Pleasure Dome; BBC Radio 4


Built in the late 1990s, Manchester’s Intu Trafford Centre is an altogether baroque edifice, marble-domed, crammed with allegorical frescos, architectural stylings borrowed from sources as detached from each other as art deco and ancient Egypt and what was, at the time of its installation, the world’s largest chandelier. It attracts 30 million punters a year, and the poet Michael Symmons Roberts, prowling impressionably around its opulent halls (23 March), outdid all of them when it came to high-grade aesthetic excitement.

With Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” echoing around him, together with a self-penned modern update that seemed to be comparing the cupolas to “jewel-encrusted beetles”, Symmons Roberts set out to convince his audience that “the country’s most extraordinary shopping centre” was not so much a temple of Mammon as “a true people’s palace”, and from his own point of view “a unique poetic statement”.

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