I cannot remember a time when Michael Rosen wasn’t part of my reading life. As a London school kid, I vividly recall his organised poetry events and his books of joyously informal verse gracing our school library. In this latest collection, the theme of migration is explored through the lens of his own family history. Complemented by the evocative illustrations of Quentin Blake, On the Move: Poems About Migration by Michael Rosen takes us from Nazi-occupied Europe to the present day, and reminds us that ‘Home is where you find it.’
We’re first asked to consider the very important distinction between the migrant, who travels in search of a better life, and the refugee, who is seeking a safe haven from danger. Within Rosen’s family we encounter both, first in lively recollections of his Jewish family upbringing, with its boisterous family dinners and talk of ‘der Heim’ (the old country)
‘…and Bubbe tells stories that go on for hours…And once she took a whole afternoon to tell Mum how to make pickled cucumber.’
But the young Michael is aware that some of his relatives are ‘missing’ and in later years makes some haunting discoveries. These inspire the most affecting poems in the book as Rosen reflects on family members killed or bereaved during the Holocaust. This wonderfully empathic poet asks us to imagine their predicament, their thoughts and emotions. It will bring a lump to your throat.
His observations span generations. The schoolmates, whose learned anti-Semitic behaviour is laid bare without judgement, for the reader to decipher. And later, an encounter with a hostile man who declares that his home town is ‘full of foreigners.’ He’s fed up, he says, he’s leaving.
And where will he go? The woefully ironic answer: ‘Spain.’
This excellent book asks the reader to think, question and empathise. It’s also a beautiful work of autobiography from one of our most beloved writers.
On the Move: Poems About Migration by Michael Rosen is published by Walker Books, 144 pages.