I’ve mentioned here before that Michael Rosen is one of my literary heroes, especially for his work with children. On a number of occasions I have been lucky enough to experience how this man can totally captivate a school hall full of children who hang on his every word. His “Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here” collection is one of my favourite children’s books ever. And last year we almost lost him, hospitalised with Covid just around the time the first lockdown started, his illness made everything seem more grim and even more scary.
After 13 days in bed with what was diagnosed as just a viral illness the writer was hospitalised when a GP friend witnessed his blood oxygen reading of 58, the lowest she had ever seen on a conscious person. Following time in intensive care he was put in an induced coma on a ventilator remaining in the ICU ward for 46 days before beginning rehabilitation and having to relearn basic functions the disease had stripped from him like standing up and walking.
This collection is subtitled “A Story Of Life, Death & The NHS”. In a sequence of prose poems Rosen catalogues his illness and recovery. Alongside this is the extraordinary response from the staff who cared for him who maintained a diary throughout to boost his recovery. These people were exhausted, often redeployed from their usual job and no doubt stressed beyond belief but they made the time to communicate with this comatose man in this way and these diary entries form an extremely moving section of the book. Above the bed they placed a copy of his “These Are The Hands” poem produced for the 60th anniversary of the NHS.
I really always enjoy Michael Rosen’s poetic style, direct, closely observed and dealing here with painful honesty the effects this cruel virus has had on him. When we are moaning about lockdown restrictions and posing conspiracy theories it’s important to feel the voice of those affected and Michael Rosen’s experience speaks for the thousands who have been similarly affected and for those thousands we have lost.
He always has the ability to find humour in the ridiculous even in the darkest moments.
“They’ve been worried
about my low blood pressure
but they’ve brought me the Daily Mail
so it’ll be fine in a moment.”
I read this on the anniversary of the first lockdown and there was no better way to get me to reflect on the year’s events and how it has hit this very special person. This is a magnificent work which has been beautifully put together by the author and Penguin Books. It will prove to be a lasting testament to the talent and tenacity of this man and of a reminder of the strange times we have been living in.
Many Different Types Of Love was published by Ebury Press, a division of Penguin Random House 18th March 2021. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.