Portrait of the artist: Michael Rosen, writer

'Kids don't get the chance to enjoy poetry. They're too busy counting adjectives'

What got you started?

My parents. Both were teachers, and they believed poetry was a vital part of what you could offer kids. We had poems floating around the house, either on the shelves, or on vinyl and tapes – recordings of Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton and Robert Graves.

What was your big breakthrough?

Seeing my play Backbone put on at the Royal Court theatre in London in 1969, when I was still at university. I was overwhelmed: I'd sit in the audience, not quite knowing why I was there.

What one piece of music would feature on the soundtrack to your life?

Miles Davis's Freddie Freeloader. It gets your goosepimples going.

Is there a lot of backstabbing in the poetry world?

Not in the children's poetry world – but yes, in the adult world. I was stunned by that whole Oxford poetry thing [the row between poets Derek Walcott and Ruth Padel]. It can't possibly matter that much. I was once involved in similar silliness myself, and Roger McGough put me down and said: "Is it good for poetry? If it isn't, shush." He was quite right.

What's the greatest threat to poetry today?

Comprehension questions in schools. Kids don't get the chance to get up and perform poetry, and enjoy it, because they're too busy counting adjectives and spotting metaphors.

What advice would you give a young poet?

Keep reading and listening to other poets. Don't think you've cracked it, because you never have.

Is there an art form you don't relate to?

Classical ballet. I can't see the emotion behind the movements; all I can see is pointy toes.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Netherlandish Proverbs, the painting by Bruegel. It was on our wall when I was a kid. It's such a wonderful idea: a visual manifestation of the oral wisdom of the people through their proverbs.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I used to show my dad a poem and he'd go: "Hmm, keep writing, lad." He was absolutely right: you have to keep bashing away at it.

What's the biggest myth about poetry?

That all of it is too hard. Some of it is – if you dive straight into Paradise Lost, it's pretty difficult – but not all of it.

What's the worst thing anyone has ever said about you?

A critic once described me as a "mere entertainer". But I didn't take it as an insult – being an entertainer is incredibly difficult.

Is there anything about your career you regret?

No, no, no. I've been just so crazily fortunate.

In short

Born: Harrow, 1946.

Career: Has published more than 140 books. Was appointed children's laureate in 2007. The stage adaptation of his book We're Going On a Bear Hunt is at the Duchess, London WC2 (0844 412 4659), until 16 August.

High point: "Being given the laureateship."

Low point: "In 1990, when the big conglomerates moved into the children's book world, and I saw five of my titles wiped out overnight."


Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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