Michael Rosen, former Children’s Laureate, will release a book based on his experience spending 47 days in intensive care fighting coronavirus.
The beloved British author will publish Many Different Kinds of Love, 12 months after he first fell ill with the virus in March. The book’s content will involve a mix of prose alongside quotes taken from notes written by nurses who cared for him.
The virus had an awful impact on Rosen who lost most of the sight in his left eye and has partial hearing loss. He also had to learn to walk again.
“It’s like an itch almost – if something happens to you, you go to the computer or the pencil and paper and start scribbling,” he said. “And so I just started writing these fragments. After I had a batch I sent them off just to see if anybody would be interested.”
Fans were desperate for news of Rosen’s recovery so an update from his wife Emma-Louise Williams when he left intensive care ended up being retweeted over 40,000 times.
Rosen explained his process of writing free verse fragments, the technique he used after his son Eddie died from meningitis at the age of 18, in Carrying the Elephant. “I couldn’t do it in hospital. But once I came home, I felt I could write about it. Some of it is about piecing together what happened, because it’s very hard and confusing, so writing enables you to get it into a kind of order.”
Rosen, now 74, is now coming to terms with his frailty: “Up until I got Covid, I just did that thing that many of us do who are reasonably fit, we just walk along and don’t think about fragility,” he said. “Obviously, I did when Eddie died – that something could be so tiny and so lethal, a single bacterium – but in relation to me I hadn’t thought about it.”
An important part of the book will be excerpts from the letters of hope and support the nurses wrote for Rosen while he was in intensive care.
One nurse wrote about reading his poem We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with her child. “They say it’s a very strange thing to be sitting next to me when the evening before they did Bear Hunt with their kid. It’s overwhelming to read. As a parent you care for your children when they’re ill, but this nursing thing, they’re doing it because it’s their job but it’s as devoted, it’s incredible.”
When Rosen was put into an induced coma the doctor told him his chance of survival was 50/50. “All I can remember is thinking quite lightheartedly, well, one in two is pretty good then and as it happens, that was actually very realistic,” he said. “Because any longer and I would have died, you see.”
When he woke after a month in the coma, he had no idea how long he had been unconscious. “I think it’s not really until now, October, I’m beginning to genuinely understand it,” he said. “I have been back to peek through the window of the intensive care ward just to help me understand that I was there.”
Michael Rosen and partner Emma-Louise Williams
According to Rosen, his brush with death has left him with a new outlook on life.
“When these big changes happen, you struggle with it,” he said. “And the wonderful thing about poetry is that it enables you to turn it over, it doesn’t tell you to shut up, it doesn’t tell you ‘you’re getting very boring now, Michael’. It’s very liberating. We like to think of life as permanent. But at the same time, at the back of our mind, we know it isn’t, and so we have to deal with that. The book will have me thinking aloud about that, so I hope that’s something people can join in with, in reading it.”