When I was a small child, back in the foreign country that is the past, I was far from the foremost authority on poetry. I was much more interested in Lego and they didn’t do many sets dedicated to the Romantic poets. Probably for the best; Lord Byron and Lego wouldn’t have mixed very well. It would have been the first set of plastic construction blocks to come with a parental guidance warning.
So I didn’t know much about poetry as a kid, no, but what little I did know was based around the works of Michael Rosen. He was the crowned king of juvenile verse. He was our Bard.
Many, many years have passed since then (many, many, many) but it was still with a giddy thrill that I went to see Michael Rosen talk about his new autobiography/memoir ‘So They Call You Pisher!’ at the Art Centre as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature. I wasn’t the only one. It was a full house made up of thrilled children and ex-children and they were kept royally entertained by the ex-Children’s Laureate for a full hour as he read from extracts his book and reminisced.
In ‘So They Call You Pisher!” Rosen takes the reader on an affectionate romp through the first 23 years of his life. His parents were members of the Communist party whose first ‘date’ was the 1936 Cable Street Riots in the East End of London. The family moved to Pinner in north west London not long after Rosen was born. The suburb wasn’t exactly a hotbed for Communist activism and party meetings in the Rosens’ front room often only consisted of his father as chair and his mother taking the minutes.
Along with his older brother Brian it sounds like Rosen grew up in an eccentric yet loving household and the fondness, if occasional disbelief and bafflement, he felt and still feels for his family and childhood shines through We, the audience, were taken on a whistle-stop tour through a good 50% of his memoir and, if he hadn’t run out of time, he probably would have ably covered the rest of the book and saved us all the cost of buying it.
Some of the speakers at the Festival, past and present, have profited from speaking on stage in the form of a loose interview format, ably guided by the Festival Director Matt Holland. Michael Rosen, being an experienced performer and man of letters, flew solo and as a result we were treated to an uninterrupted stream of stories and anecdotes from throughout his life. Tales bubbled out of him like water from a fountain and his hour on stage, including the traditional Q&A at the end, passed all too quickly.
Towards the end of the Q&A session a member of the audience, a teacher, said that Michael Rosen had inspired children for the last 20 years (more in my case) and asked how he saw himself himself inspiring them for the next 20? Another two decades of solid output might be asking a bit much of him (Rosen’s just turned 72) but with a standing legacy of over 140 books, hundreds of television appearances and innumerable poems it’s not unlikely that he’ll be enlivening young minds for many years to come.