Michael Rosen: UK Children's Laureate on War


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Michael Rosen was born into a London Jewish family, the son of two distinguished educators - Connie and Harold Rosen. Michael's childhood was rich in books, stories and conversation; on one camping holiday, Harold Rosen memorably read his family the unabridged version of Little Dorrit. Michael's childhood ambitions were to be an actor (a desire fuelled by weekly visits to the Questors Theatre in Ealing) or a farmer. He has strong memories about the way he was taught poetry at school - "There was a ritual about it... almost semi-religious... some people were made to feel a failure because they couldn't learn it."

Michael attended Middlesex Hospital Medical School for a year but transferred to Wadham College, Oxford to study English Literature. At Oxford, he started to realize his ambition of acting (as well as writing and directing). Michael still says that if he wasn't a poet, he'd like to be an actor. Anyone who has seen him in performance knows that he already is!

The narrowness of his course of study proved a source of dissatisfaction and Michael began looking outside his recommended reading to contemporary working, class ballads. He retains a passion for street rhymes, popular songs and folk stories.

Michael's first play, Backbone, was performed at London's Royal Court Theatre in 1969. His next stop was the BBC, where he worked on Play School, schools TV and radio drama. In 1973, Michael joined the National Film School and encountered "the freakiest people I've ever met."

Michael Rosen has been writing poetry since the age of 18. His first collection, Mind Your Own Business, was published in 1974. Although it was not planned as a collection for children, it appeared on Andre Deutsch's children's list. This, says Michael, was a turning point - "Suddenly it all fused: the writing, the performing, the popular audience. It was just incredibly exhilarating."

He quickly made a name for himself with his collections of humorous verse for children, including Wouldn't You Like to Know, You Tell Me and Quick, Let's Get Out of Here. Poetry critic Morag Styles has no hesitation in identifying Rosen as "one of the most significant figures in contemporary children's poetry." He was, says Styles, one of the first poets "to draw closely on his own childhood experiences... and to 'tell it as it was' in the ordinary language children actually use."

Michael was fundamental in opening up children's access to poetry: both through his own writing and with important anthologies such as Culture Shock. He was one of the first poets to make visits to schools throughout the UK (and further afield in Australia, Canada and Singapore). In 1993, Michael gained an MA in Children's Literature from Reading University.

He has also had a very distinguished broadcasting career, presenting such programs as BBC Radio 4's Treasure Islands, BBC Radio 3's Best Words and Meridian - the World Service Arts program.

Source: Penguin Books: http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,0_1000027858,00.html



This poem is dedicated to all the dead of all wars who are not counted. I can remember when the Vietnam war was going on, we never found out how many Vietnamese died. In the war against Afghanistan, whic we were told was "worth it," we never found out how many our leaders killed. There was every chance that as many innocent people died in that war as were killed in the twin towers. Now, after the war in Iaq, we may never find out how many Iraqis have died. ~Michael Rosen

When they do war
They forget how to count

They forget how to count
And that's how they do it.

They come
They kill

They kill
They go

They give us 
No numbers
No names
They disappear them
They vanish them
It's how they do it.

They come
They kill

They kill
They go

Names are deleted
Numbers are un-counted
bodies are un-included
Faces are un-remembered
That's how they do it.

They come in
They flush out

They mop up
They take out

No numbers
No names

No names
No numbers

And it's worth it, 
they say.
It's worth it.
Believe us, it's worth it
believe us.
Oh yes it IS worth it
if you forget how to count.
It IS worth it
if you forget the numbers.
It IS worth it
if you forget the names.
It IS worth it 
if you forget the faces. 
That's how they do it.

we're counting.
Watch us:
we're counting.
we're counting.

-we count.


For Children of Gaza

In Gaza, children,
you learn that the sky kills
and that houses hurt.
You learn that your blanket is smoke
and breakfast is dirt.

You learn that cars do somersaults
clothes turn red,
friends become statues,
bakers don’t sell bread.

You learn that the night is a gun,
that toys burn
breath can stop,
it could be your turn.

You learn:
if they send you fire
they couldn’t guess:
not just the soldier dies -
it’s you and the rest.

Nowhere to run,
nowhere to go,
nowhere to hide
in the home you know.

You learn
that death isn’t life,
that air isn’t bread,
the land is for all.
You have the right to be
Not Dead.
You have the right to be
Not Dead.
You have the right to be
Not Dead.

Source: http://behindthelinespoetry.blogspot.com/2009/01/michael-rosens-poem-for-children-of.html