Thursday 7 October is National Poetry Day and Books for Keeps is celebrating with an exclusive interview with the poet and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, whose latest collection is Michael Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things.
Q: Some of the poems in your new collection, Mike Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things, are quite challenging. Do you see it as part of a poet’s role to challenge young readers?
A: I think I like to challenge myself first. Then I look at the poem and think: will any child I know (including the child I once was) be able to get something from this? Will it arouse anyone’s curiosity? Will it be something that adults and children could share? If there are enough yes’s to those questions, the poem will go into a book for children.
Q: How important is craft when writing poetry for children?
A: I avoid the word ‘craft’ but I can see that there are elements of craft in any kind of work that involves re-shaping. I like to feel that what I’m doing is getting to the heart of something, trying to find something ‘authentic’ – which might be a feeling of the ‘real’ whether that’s in its setting, its thought, its feeling, its people or wherever.
Q: Many of your poems are written from a child’s perspective. Do you draw on memories of your childhood?
A: Very nearly always when I say ‘I’, it really is me. On occasions, and usually obviously, the ‘I’ is a joke ‘I’ and couldn’t possibly be me.
Q: Which poets, if any, have influenced your poetry for children?
A: It all started with D H Lawrence – that self-questioning voice giving an account of something. Then it was the US poet Carl Sandburg, with his collections of sayings and conversations and jazz poetry. Over the last 30 years it’s my colleagues, people I’ve performed with. They’ve all influenced me and still do: James Berry, John Agard, Jackie Kay, Charles Causley, Grace Nichols, Ian McMillan, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Benjamin Zephaniah, Judith Nicholls, Julie O’Callaghan, Paul Lyalls, John Mole, Gerard Benson, Wes Magee, Andrew Fusek Peters, John Hegley, Adrian Mitchell, Margot Henderson, Carol Ann Duffy, Pauline Stewart… these are all people I listen to as they’re performing and what they write opens up possibilities in my mind about how to write, or what to write about.
Q: Should we be concerned that so few single poet collections are published for children these days?
A: Yes, there’s something wrong if children only come across poems when they’re themed. I’m think it’s good for children to find poems in different contexts – yes, in anthologies where methods and approaches are contrasted. But it’s also good to engage with the ‘theme’ of a poet’s writing over a period of time. That’s a reminder that it is a real human being, living in a particular place and time who writes. And that is just like you, the child.
Books for Keeps has six copies of Mike Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things to give away. To be in with a chance of winning email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org putting Mike Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things in the title.
Plus, a DVD of Michael performing Mike Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things called ‘Michael Rosen Live’ is available from email@example.com