By Jacqueline Grima
Michael Rosen, children’s novelist and poet, came to Manchester this week for two events: a poetry event for children at the Royal Exchange Theatre and, later, an evening in conversation with fellow poet Mandy Coe.
Firstly, Michael, whose books include We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and Centrally Heated Knickers, took to the stage at the Royal Exchange to talk to schoolchildren about his writing. The event was hosted by the Manchester Literature Festival and was attended by over five hundred children and teachers from the Manchester area including Ludworth Primary School and Manchester Health Academy.
Michael began by talking about his childhood, which, much to the children’s amusement, he described as “the stone age”. He told the children lots of funny stories about his family and about how he and his brother got told off a lot for fighting! He then went on to say how he was encouraged by a friend to begin writing. Michael knew he wanted to write but wasn’t sure where to start until his friend told him, “What you do is talk with your pen.”
Michael was then inspired to write his first poem, the experience of having to share a bedroom with his brother something he felt he could write about. He went on to write lots more poems inspired by his family, including an incident which involved his mother drinking sour milk!
When asked by Humanity Hallows about the importance of keeping children engaged with poetry, Michael said:
“Poetry is a way of bringing our lives and our thoughts and beliefs into words that may seem everyday but that, through poetry, we can make memorable. Poetry gives children the knowledge and the space to find who they are.”
The event, also supported by the Manchester Children’s Book Festival (MCBF) was part of the ‘Let In The Stars’ campaign, which aims to promote the poetry for and by children. MCBF Festival Director James Draper commented:
“The best way to help young people engage with poetry is to have it brought to life beyond the page at events like this. Meeting poets like Michael and hearing of their experiences encourages children not only to read poetry but, also, to use their imaginations and write their own.”
The theatre event was a big hit with both adults and children. Collette who attended with her five-year-old son, Gabriel, said, “The afternoon has been great fun. We really enjoyed listening to Michael’s stories.”
Later in the day, Michael moved to Manchester Central Library to join prize-winning children’s poet, Mandy Coe, the inspiration behind the ‘Let In The Stars’ campaign. Their discussion, which took place in front of an audience of writers, teachers, librarians and other book lovers, focussed on the future of children’s poetry and the seeming lack of recognition of the work of children’s poets by current publishers.
In a lively conversation, both Michael and Mandy stressed the importance of children’s poetry in the publishing world, describing it as “powerful, democratic and inspiring”. Both poets believe passionately that urgent steps need to be taken to ensure the survival of children’s poetry, with the publishing industry, educators and writers all working together to provide support for children’s poets.
Mandy told us, “The conversation with Michael Rosen aims to celebrate an often-ignored branch of literature. We need more events like this to ensure children’s poetry thrives for many years to come.” Both poets agreed that more needed to be done to continue children’s engagement with poetry, to encourage them to become ‘poetry detectives’.
The evening was topped and tailed by excellent readings from Mandy and Michael, giving the audience a chance simply to enjoy poetry, as well as to consider some very thought provoking questions.
To see what else was said on the night you can join the debate over on the MCBF Twitter account.
To find out more about the ‘Let in the Stars’ campaign see www.mcbf.org.uk where there will very shortly be an announcement about a brand new poetry competition for parents and children. To sign up for the MCBF mailing list and be kept informed about this and other events coming for MCBF 2016 see here.
To find out more about upcoming events in the Manchester Literature Festival, see the festival website.