"The nice thing about poetry is that it can grab the voices – your own, the voices of other poets, of anybody and everywhere, it’s a way of playing with language.”

This Thursday is National Poetry Day in the UK and schools up and down the country will be trying to nurture a love of the creative art in their pupils.

One man who has devoted his career to doing just this is Michael Rosen, one of the best-known and best-loved figures in children’s literature, who is coming to Burgh House in Hampstead next week to talk about his life and career in the latest of the historic house’s Lifelines series.

“I don’t do a lot of talks to adults,” Michael admits, “so when people see I’m doing a talk they think ‘Ooh great, he’ll do We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!’ and bring their very young children along, and then you see them wiggling on their bottoms when you go ‘So, in my fourth year at university…’”

There is an awful lot of ground to cover, given the 67-year-old’s long and varied career as not only a poet and author, but also a TV and radio presenter, Socialist columnist and Republican advocate.

The evening will take the form of an interview with radio producer Piers Plowright, with questions being opened to the audience.

“I think he’s going to surprise me,” Michael laughs, “I’m sure he’ll find some nooks and crannies in my life that I hardly know about!”

Michael was born in Harrow in 1946 and grew up in Pinner, going to school in various schools in Harrow and Watford, and his childhood between the ages of two and 12 featured heavily in much of his subsequent poetry, in books such as Mind Your Own Business (1974), Quick, Let’s Get Out of Here (1983) and Michael Rosen’s Big Book of Bad Things (2010).

It was at secondary school, aged 14 or 15, that he first began writing poems and stories and acting.

Inspired by his secondary school biology teacher, Miss Pope, he also developed a love of science and went from the sixth form to Middlesex Hospital Medical School with the aim of becoming a doctor.

“Miss Pope had got me so enthused about zoology and biology and all that so I did medicine for about a year and then I was beginning to panic because I wasn’t very good at it,” says Michael.

He moved to Wadham College, Oxford, and continued with medicine for another year before realising his heart lay with the arts and switching to an English degree.

“A strange zigzag, I call it,” he says, “going from the arts to science and back to the arts.”

Firmly back on the artistic side of things, Michael says he didn’t originally intend to write for children.

“I was writing poems that I thought were poems about my childhood but for adults,” he says, “but then I found out that people didn’t really want to publish those, they thought they were naïve, I don’t know.

"But a couple of people suggested that I should try children’s publishers and, through a combination of friends and family, we found a publisher who was interested. I was a bit amazed really.

“So I put together this group of poems, Mind Your Own Business, illustrated by Quentin Blake, and they came out in 1974, and suddenly the children’s book world welcomed me in and said ‘Ooh look, lovely new poems about modern children’. That was what started it – the fact that people were so enthusiastic.”

Since then Michael has written getting on for 150 books, and has also been writing articles for newspapers and magazines, talking and performing at schools, libraries, theatres, making radio and TV documentaries, mainly about words, language and books, and teaching and running workshops.

“This is the dream – no, beyond the dream job,” he laughs. “I’m a kind of one-man talkie show, I do a mixture of poems and anecdotes, I can ad lib, I can improvise. If I could have imagined myself, at 15, doing this in 50 years’ time, I would have said ‘how would I get from here to there because that’s a dream?’”

It does sound like the stuff of dreams but Michael is keen to show children that language can open the same sorts of doors for them.

“I notice that many young children at school have the notion that language is something that they have to ‘get right’ and you have to learn how to make it right – so, as a child, you’re almost always in the position of being ‘wrong’.

“But the wonderful thing about poetry is that you don’t have to worry about that. You can find voices, another poem, and swap things round, like parody – think of Lewis Caroll and Edward Lear – and you can find phrases and repeat them.

"When you show children that language is yours and yours to play with, it gives them a different attitude to this thing called language. It gives them a strength and power for themselves – you discover that language is yours.”

  • Lifelines with Michael Rosen takes place at Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead on Thursday, October 10 at 7pm. Details: 020 7431 0144, burghhouse.org.uk