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The poet, broadcaster and children’s author contracted Covid-19 a year ago and spent 48 days in intensive care. His new collection of prose poems attempts to make sense of that time
When people stop Michael Rosen in his local neighbourhood of Muswell Hill in north London to ask him how he’s doing, which they do quite often these days, he replies: “Well, I’m not dead!” As is now well known, the former children’s laureate spent 48 days in intensive care after contracting coronavirus almost exactly one year ago. He went into hospital at the end of March as one of the nation’s favourite children’s writers and emerged a national treasure: his poem “These Are the Hands”, written to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the NHS in 2008, became an unofficial anthem for health-workers coping with the first wave of the pandemic; and, in a nod to his most famous book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, teddy bears were placed in windows for children to spot on their daily walks during lockdown.
Rosen was completely unaware of these tributes as he spent all of April and much of May in an induced coma, “a kind of pre-death that is similar, presumably, to when we go”, he says now. “People were reading this poem by this dead bloke, but he wasn’t actually dead, he was just lying like a cadaver up the road in the Whittington hospital.” He doesn’t cry so much now, he says, but when he was first told about the public reaction to his illness (Michael Sheen read “These Are the Hands”, “much better than me”, on Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 show on his birthday last year), “it was just, whoosh!”
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