Fighters for Life

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(321)

Michael Rosen, Bookmarks, £7.99

"Who's heard of Michael Rosen?" I asked my class of Year 7s. A score of hands shot up. "I met him!" shouted Neelima. "Me too!" echoed Mahdi. "He came to our primary school," confirmed Mitchell. "I was this close to him."

If my Humanities class is anything to go by, the Children's Laureate has the full support of his constituency. Their enthusiasm speaks well of him, and them, because he is a writer who refuses to pander to cosy myths or talk down to his readers, whatever their age.

The poem I read to them - "Notes on Comic Relief" - is a prime example. It critiques how world trade systemically robs the poor while obscuring the real nature of Third World debt. It does so through a series of apparently naive questions leading to an irony-laced conclusion. It provoked meaningful debate among my class.

In his introduction to this collection of "political" poetry (though he understandably avoids this loaded pigeon-holing), Rosen defends his frequent use of free verse, and explains how this has helped him to "pick an angle, find a crack in the surface, crystallise a viewpoint or highlight a contradiction in received opinion". He employs this strategy brilliantly for a range of noble aims - to expose the fallacies of war and occupation, to decry the betrayals of former lefties, to revel in resistance.

Personal favourites include the chilling imagery of "Holocaust Denial", an encapsulation of the selective silence of the media in "War Breaks Out" and the gloriously silly "Republican Hate Poem". "A History Lesson from the Year 2032" satirises the double-talk used to justify the Iraq war and its intended consequences (the contorted reasoning that made Saddam such a threat to world peace, the creation of the General Powell Gulf, the reforming of the United Nations under George Bush's niece).

Also included are his three Songs of the Dead, which link the fate of Iraqis killed by occupation with victims of subsequent domestic terrorism. They were brave poems to write. In the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, there was a concerted media attempt to make such connections taboo. Rosen read these poems at a moving vigil organised by the Stop the War Coalition. It is not just journalists who can "speak truth to power".

In celebration of such an ethos, Rosen has generously donated the proceeds of this collection to the Friends of Bookmarks Appeal, thus helping to ensure that outlets remain for the poetical provocateurs of the future.