REVIEW: Collected Poems Volume One

Where I live in Nottingham, trams and buses can be named after people from the city who have done great things.

One of the buses is called Henry Normal.

If you’ve seen The Mrs Merton Show, The Royle Family or Coogan’s Run, or you’re a fan of Gavin and Stacey, Red Dwarf, The Might Boosh or Alan Partridge, you will have come across Henry Normal. He co wrote the first list and produced and sometimes screen edited the second.

He’s a comedian, scriptwriter and producer but he’s also a poet.

So in the spirit of trying to read things other than novels, I have enjoyed his Collected Poems Volume One over the last couple of days.

Normal (real name Peter James Carroll) has published many books of poetry. This one includes three books – Staring Directly at the Eclipse, Travelling Second Class through Hope, and Raining Upwards – originally published in 2016 and 2017.

I met him last year at Nottingham Poetry Festival when I attended two poetry readings he was hosting where he also introduced two young poets who read their work. Normal co founded Nottingham Poetry Festival, founded Manchester Poetry Festival (now Manchester Literary Festival) and is one of the Patrons of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature.

He writes on a variety of subjects, some of his work being poignant and enigmatic and other poems being blunt and about everyday things or items. He writes with a self-deprecating, unpretentious candour that I love.

His poems have great titles like Hell is the place where all the photos you thought you’d destroyed are enlarged, Never play chess with an anarcho-nihilist or The sheet music of Microwave Background Radiation.

He writes a lot about his son Johnny who is autistic and how Johnny’s experience of the world is different to his own as in Photos with my son or When words are not your first language.

But then something like The walking wounded at Lidl outlines the turmoil of using a disabled parking space even if you have a disabled parking badge.

Sometimes if I am reading poetry I struggle to find a meaning (or maybe even a point) in the words. With Henry Normal’s work I can find a truth that I can understand in it. And I’m pretty sure that’s why I enjoy it so much.

His poem Sans Pretension sums it up from the start with the lines:

“We say ‘cul-de-sac’

to make ‘dead-end’ sound sunny”.

My favourite poem in this particular collection though is entitled Tinned fruit and evaporated milk and is about the reaction of Normal’s elderly, working-class father when his son tells him that he loves him.

I love Henry Normal’s work which I find both inspiring and entertaining. And if you get a chance to see him perform some of his poems then go – both the sessions I went to last year were free of charge and hosted in libraries during the day.

The chance of hearing a poet read their own work the way they hear it in their head is not to be missed.

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