Michael Rosen
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Here's an interview from Year Six of Cleobury Mortimer Primary School, Shropshire.

1) Who has been the biggest influence in your life so far?

I think it must be my father and mother. They were teachers and my mother read to me when I was very young. She read to me every night and I can remember many of the stories and I've even got quite a few of the books she read to me. She had a sing-song voice and I once told her but she thought I was criticising her and she got a bit humpy with me. My dad read to us when we were older but he helped me a lot with writing and studying. We spent long hours talking about the world, politics, books and football. He was also very funny, very good at jokes and could speak several languages. All this influenced me.

2) Do you want your children to follow in your footsteps?

I'm happy for my children to find things that they really want to do. My oldest is interested in making films. One of my children is studying philosophy and all this is great.

3) What was your first day at school like?

My parents said that I came back and said, 'Galliker's got a big gas stove'. What do you mean? they said. I said, 'Galliker's got a big gas stove.' They couldn't figure out what I meant for several days until they asked my teacher who I called 'Hornby Teacher' (Her name was Miss Hornby) and she explained that Mrs Gallagher was the school cook and of course the school cooker (or gas stove, as it was called in those days) was huge. Clearly, this was the most important thing abut that nursery for a three year old.

4) What was your best friend at school called? Can you tell me your favourite memory about them?

My  best friend at primary school was Brian Harrison, who I called 'Harrybo'. My favourite memory of him is walking along the road to his house singing the song from 'Winnie the Pooh', 'My toes are cold, tiddly pom, my nose is cold, tiddly pom...'

5) What was your worst and favourite subject at school?

Worst was maths, best was English.

6) Were you badly behaved at school?

Yes. I'm afraid so.

7) Did you do anything that you regret when you were younger? What?

Yes, I sometimes did something very horrible. I would get other children to laugh at someone. I made fun of that person and got others to join in. I'm very, very ashamed of this.

8) What makes you laugh?

Very good stand-up comedy.

9) Why did you want to be a poet and an author?

I sometimes think of poems as capturing something - a moment, a person, a feeling, a sound. The business of writing is getting it right. It's not really a 'capture'. It's a strange business of translating something from the real world (a scene or a conversation) and turning it into the few words on the page that we call a poem. This change (sometimes I think of it like a 'metamorphosis' as with caterpillars turning into butterflies) is what gets me going and it always has.

10) How did Housman and DH Lawrence inspire you?

I liked the way AE Housman wrote small dramas. They're like tiny film scripts, often about something sad or even tragic. I think I simply admired these rather than me trying to imitate them. Lawrence was more of an inspiration because I really did want to write like him. I like they way he writes about a moment (eg like seeing a snake where he's come to collect water) and he describes it, he describes his feelings at the time, and he describes his feelings as he's writing about it. So he mingles all three. I wanted to write like that.

11) Is your Jewish background important to you? Why or how?

I know that it's important because it's how and why my parents behaved in the way they did. If I try to break that down into exactly what, all I come up with is things like the particular way in which they told stories about their family and their childhoods, the ways in which they used language (they often mixed English with Yiddish, a Jewish language). We weren't religious so I can't say that it was that. They also had stories about how they were persecuted when they were children so they brought me up to think about discrimination, prejudice and racism.

12)   Why did you become a poet instead of a doctor?

I realised that I wasn't very good at studying medicine whilst realising at the same time, I loved writing.

13) Did your parents like your career decision?

Not at first. They were very disappointed. I think they thought I was just throwing away a chance of a lifetime to do something really special.

14) What disgusting things did you see at medical school?

Nothing really. I don't think bodies or people's insides are disgusting. I think these things are amazing and wonderful. I thought so at the time but I just wasn't very good at studying it.

15) Where did you write your first ever poem?

I remember writing a poem at primary school. That was in the classroom at West Lodge Primary School, in Pinner. My next poem I wrote when I was about 12 at home in 6a Love Lane Pinner with my mother in the kitchen. It was a Robin Hood ballad. The third poem I wrote when I was about 13 and I think I wrote that in the kitchen and upstairs in my bedroom. I did write that one on my own, though it was for homework. The very first poem I wrote entirely on my own without it being something to do for homework, as when I was about fifteen or sixteen and I definitely wrote that in my bedroom at 6a Love Lane. The flat is still there and you can see pictures of it in a book called 'Michael Rosen's Scrap Book' which is in the Treetops series of the Oxford Reading Tree.

16) Where was your first interview and how did you feel during it?

I think that was for getting into college, either the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, or for Wadham College, Oxford. I can remember the Wadham one. I was very cold and I thought that the people interviewing me thought that I wasn't very good. They asked me a question I couldn't answer and they had strange smiles on their faces. But I did get in.

17) What was your role in the BBC?

I was a trainee producer. That meant they taught me how to make radio and TV programmes and how to make short films. That lasted for about two years. Since then, I mostly either 'present' programmes (that means being the interviewer and the one who does the commentary) or I'm an interviewee - the one who is asked the questions because people think I' may have something interesting to say!

18) What emotions did you feel when you won the children's laureate award?

I was delighted and excited. I thought this is a chance to really try to help children all over the country find and enjoy books.

19) Have you met the Queen? What did you talk about?

No, I haven't met the Queen.

20) How long does it take you to write a poem?

Sometimes it can be quite quick, let's say, less than half an hour. Sometimes it can take months and years. What this means is that I write some of it, and get dissatisfied, leave it and then try again later. And then again, later. And then again!

21) What is your favourite book? Why?

My favourite book for adults is either 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens or 'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller. The first is a wonderful book about a boy growing up and finding his way in society, thinking that he's posh, when in fact he isn't. The second is about the crazy, tragic and corrupt things that go on in wartime. My favourite children's books for very young children are 'Where the Wild Things Are' by Maurice Sendak and 'Not Now Bernard' by David McKee. My favourite books for older children are 'Emil and the Detectives' by Erich Kastner, 'The Lonely White Sail' by Valentin Katayev and the first of the Northern Lights trilogy by Philip Pullman. My favourite poets from the past are Carl Sandburg, D.H. Lawrence and Gerard Manley Hopkins. My favourite living poets are Jackie Kay, Matthew Sweeney, John Agard and Tony Harrison.

22)   What has been the worst or most embarrassing experience of your career?

The very first time I was on television talking about my first book and I was asked what the name of my book was and I forgot.

23)  Have you met any of your idols? Who are they?

I said 'Bonjour' to Thierry Henry and I know Tony Benn.

24)   What will be your next inspiration for your poems or stories?

I'm writing something called 'Michael's Big Book of Bad Things' and it's based on the idea that my dad had a book which was full of all the bad things I did. He didn't but I imagined that he had.

25)  Who has been your biggest influence in your life?

I think I answered this before.

26)  Do you want your books to last for generations? If so why?

If I'm really honest, yes I would. I'm not sure I know why. I'm guessing it's because it's a way of not being lost or forgotten. This is what's known as 'egotistical' which means that a person might think that their own self is more important than other people. I'll admit that I am egotistical but I try very hard to balance that by doing as many things as I can to help other people express themselves.

27)  What do you want to achieve in your future life?

I think I have achieved all that I could possibly have hoped for. I always wanted to do shows that people would want to come and see and I do that all the time. I always wanted to write things that people would want to read and some of the things I've written are like that. So I've achieved it!

28)  Can you give us a tip on how to read and perform a poem aloud?

If you're reading and performing on your own, you have to think that you're an actor. You're making the sounds and pictures of the poem live in other people's heads. You have the words to do this with,which means that every word and phrase has to have the right sound. You have to think of these words as flying into people's heads. If you say them too quietly or too quickly, they won't fly. You have to think of your voices, faces and bodies as part of the way in which people will enjoy what you're saying. This means thinking about how  you stand, how you look, and what movements you make. If a poem is very rhythmic,  you may want to make your head or your hands or your body carry the rhythm. If it's several of you performing a poem, think how you can use your different voices. It's possible for a 'chorus' (that's a group of people who aren't saying the main part of the poem) can carry emotion, rhythm and feeling. They could do this by repeating words as an echo, by being the voice of say the last line of each verse, or the first line, or single words that you want to emphasise. It might be good to mime some of the poem or alternatively to turn some of the moments into a 'tableau' or a still photo shot. A chorus can also make a rhythm behind the main voice by whispering a sound or a word. This could start before the poem begins, carry on through the poem and carry on afterwards. It's a good idea to play around with many of these ideas just to see which effect sounds best.

Thanks again for your time and perseverance!!

It's been my pleasure.


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