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Michael Rosen Interview

Posted on 24 February 2004. © Copyright 2004-2020 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

WriteWords talks to Michael Rosen, children's novelist and poet, author of 140 books. Michael Rosen’s work is also featured in Velocity, the fantastic collection of poetry and other fiction, out now from Black Spring Press (see our review on site)

Tell us about yourself- your background, awards etc

I was born in 1946 in Harrow in North London. At that time my father was a secondary school English teacher and my mother was just about to start to train as a primary school teacher. They were from the Jewish East End tradition, their parents and/or grandparents coming from Poland/Russia/Romania. I went to various state schools in Pinner, Harrow and Watford, then went to Medical School, started on the first part of a medical training, jacked it in and went on to do a degree in English at Oxford Uni. I then worked for the BBC until they chucked me out and I have been a freelance writer, broadcaster, lecturer, performer ever since – that’s to say since 1972. Most of my books have been for children, but that’s not how I started out. I wrote a play that went on the Royal Court in 1969. I wrote some poems about my childhood, that I thought were adult poems (!) but they were taken up by a publisher of children’s books and published like that in 1974. Since then I’ve been involved in some way or another in bringing out about 140 books. Some of these are written entirely by me, with no illustrations, some with illustration, some are anthologies of other people’s poems selected by me, some are adaptations of folk tales and the like. In and amongst bringing these out, I’ve written a few books for adults: poems, books for teachers and/or parents, and an anthology of dissident writing. I’ve won a few awards: one for a poetry book for children, one for the adaptation of the American summer camp song: ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’, one for a radio programme I wrote and presented, an award for contributions to children’s literature. I have an MA, a Ph.D, and I’m a visiting professor at London Metropolitan Univ. Recent books include This Is Not My Nose (Penguin) and for children: Howler illustrated by Neal Layton (Bloomsbury), Oww! illustrated by Jonathan Langley (Harper Collins) and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet adapted by me and illustrated by Jane Ray (Walker).

How did you start writing?

Sometime around the age of twelve and thirteen I began to get a sense that I liked writing, liked trying out different kinds of writing, I tried writing satirical poems about people I knew. At around sixteen, I got the bug after reading several things: D.H. Lawrence’s poems, James Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’, and some poems I ‘did’ for what was then called ‘O-level’. I started writing poems about things I had done when I was much younger, about girls, about ‘nature’. Most of them were deadly serious. In the sixth form I caught the Gerard Manley Hopkins virus. This made me spend hours trying to mangle the grammar and find alliterative and symbolic sequences of words. They were virtually incomprehensible and very boring.

What poets have been a formative influence on your work?

I’ve already mentioned Gerard Manley Hopkins, who I suppose was ‘formative’ for a short while. D.H. Lawrence did the biz for me and still does. My parents were involved in choosing, editing or advising on some poetry anthologies and broadcasts for school children. That meant that I came across a lot of poets who had written for children, or whose work had been found to be OK for kids. In particular, I liked Carl Sandburg. At university, I enjoyed reading Coleridge and John Donne in particular, but I don’t suppose they ‘influenced’ me as such.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Michael Rosen is represented / published by:
Penguin Group (UK)

Walker Books Ltd

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Comments by other Members

bjlangley at 15:15 on 24 February 2004  Report this post
That was really interesting. I remember reading some of Michael Rosen's poems when I was at Primary School!

literati at 19:07 on 24 February 2004  Report this post
As a personal tutor I find a lot of the children I teach really enjoy humour in poetry! Another dimension for learning! Michael Rosen's poetry has lots! Thank you. literati

Zigeroon at 14:49 on 25 February 2004  Report this post

Fantastic interview, full of information about the process, enthusiastically stated. I felt as if I was in the same room listening to Michael Rosen. Plenty of food for thought and inspiration.

tinyclanger at 15:59 on 25 February 2004  Report this post
Really interesting; love Rosen's work; lots of useful info and realistic tips, too. More like this please!

Account Closed at 18:04 on 25 February 2004  Report this post
Very interesting article indeed! Ashamed to admit it but to-date I have yet to read any of Michael Rosen's work, however come back to be tomorrow and that statement will be false.


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Lammi at 14:38 on 06 October 2007  Report this post
We love Michael Rosen in this house! I met him at a NATE conference back in the 90s and got him to sign one of his books for me. I've used his poetry with primary age pupils and secondary, and read it for pleasure myself. I also enjoy listening to him on the radio, especially his programme about English language. Was fascinated by the competition to find a new word, though I still think the winner should have been "blogsam" - abandoned blogs and forums and web-pages littering the internet: genius.

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Bonnette at 11:21 on 18 October 2019  Report this post
Modern American Poetry had the greatest influence and actually made contrasts with the British poetry. Back then, Michael wrote stories about his son Eddie and it was the motivation to remember the events and situations in their life.

Bonnette at 11:24 on 18 October 2019  Report this post
Also, Michael is interested in linguistics and once I asked to write my essay review on Language in Use and he was the one to respond on Twitter under my post. A great author and poet wrote that he often cries over books like Are You Still Circumcised? by Harold Rosen, his father. He was a Jewish boy who had a tough life and studied in a grammar school.

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