On the Move: Poems About Migration

On the Move: Poems About Migration
Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Walker Books

This is a subject very close to the poet’s heart as is evident right from the start when he explores his roots. We read of the experiences of Michael Rosen’s Family and Friends in the first of the book’s four thematic sections. We read too of when he was just a boy and he writes about growing up in London after the end of WW11, and his Polish-Jewish heritage.

The poems in the second and shortest section, The War, are equally poignant comprising parental reminiscences of World War II and incidents during family travels in various parts of postwar Europe

Enormously potent is The Migrants in Me. In this third part, Michael considers missing family members. So says his father: “I had two French uncles. / They were in France / at the beginning of the war. / They weren’t there at the end.”
In the next poem ‘Finding Out,’ Rosen purposefully searches out information about these uncles—Oscar and Martin, learning of old photos of them in a long-hidden box labelled Family Photos.
Then come heart-wrenching poems directly addressing Oscar and Rachel, his wife; these imagine their feelings during escape, discovery by Nazis, and being sent to Auschwitz.

In On the Move Again we read of the poet’s thoughts about migration today, in particular the plight of refugees who flee their homelands in the face of war, famine or other adversity, to start life afresh. It ends with the compelling ‘Today’ – ‘What you did yesterday / can help you choose what to do now. / What you did yesterday and what you do now / can help you plan what to do tomorrow. / But you can only do something now.’

At once commemorative, historical, political and celebratory, Michael’s poems herein have a straightforward power that is echoed in Quentin Blake’s black and white illustrations that have a haunting quality of their own.

The book opens with an explanation of the difference between refugees and migrants and concludes with suggestions of organisations that support refugees.

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