Henry Normal talks about nature, getting older and writing what you know
Poetry is everywhere at the moment. It’s in stand-up comedy nights such as Punk in Drublic, theatre shows like Rosie Fleeshman’s Narcissist in The Mirror, and TV adverts for a certain building society. Even John Cooper Clarke has pitched up in dictionary corner on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
One of the North West’s poets, Henry Normal, is about to release Raining Upwards, his first collection of entirely new work in 20 years. The pieces are inspired by looking at nature and the elements from an urban perspective. “I’m an urban sort of character,” Normal says. “And I’ve tried to base my poems on my surroundings, rather than the thought process in my head.”
Here is the science behind the book’s title: “Hailstones are formed by rain being blown back up and then returning as ice,” Normal explains, before offering Northern Soul this taster.
I have shrunk with age and grief
I am not sure I have a soul left to steal
He has his mother’s nose
a family resemblance in outline
Our weather-proof coats
sort of match
hooded against the torrent
Deepest blue obscures into black
on the inside
the lack of detail gives the impression
my head exists in space
like a hologram
or a dark snow globe
The mountain behind looks unreal
a photo-shop composite
complete with derelict shelter
Only his hand on my shoulder
The hailstorm has all but subsided
leaving us a little bruised
There will be better days
It’s in the nature of ice
when the stone grows too heavy
it cannot be sustained in mid air
I look to you
I am still alive
“A lot of my early poems are about relationships and understanding my place in the world. But, as you get older, you feel more grounded. We take the basic, vital things like air, water and food for granted. Global warming is impossible to ignore and I’m just trying to widen things out from the initial perspective we all have about our own worries. There’s only so many poems you can write about having a cold sore.
“Age makes you more aware and in less of a rush. Creative people in particular are always trying to catch up with themselves, but eventually you realise there’s no catching up and nothing to catch up with anyway. You may as well slow down a bit and actually enjoy the journey.”
The inclusion of poetry in stand-up comedy nights has become more common of late but, as Normal points out, this is not the first time that comedy and poetry has merged.
“I did all that 35 years ago,” he says. “I did stand-up with Steve Coogan in Ashton and with Frank Skinner in Bury. It’s a well-trodden thing with the likes of John Hegley who is still a stalwart of the cabaret circuit, but it has become more prevalent with more people doing it again.
“When I started, there were no comedy clubs in Manchester. It was mixed nights where you could be on a bill with anyone. I played Stockport once with can-can dancers, and even did a gig in Sheffield with a bloke reading Winnie The Pooh. If there was a platform, you would try to get on it, as there were no real poetry places.”
He adds: “I like that it has become more mainstream again. We had a bit of a wave in the 60s with the Liverpool writers, but it’s been a long process. City-dwelling poets have now found the beauty in this way of living. Poetry festivals never used to be in urban places like they are now.”
Normal co-founded Baby Cow Productions with Steve Coogan, a TV company with an impressive CV including The Royle Family, Nighty Night and Gavin & Stacey. In June, he was honoured with a special BAFTA for services to television. He left Baby Cow three years ago to concentrate on poetry full-time but is still working on a variety of projects.
“So much for retirement,” he jokes. “I’m busier than ever. I still help with script editing and editing TV shows. My son Johnny, who painted the cover art for Raining Upwards, has autism and I’ve just spent a year writing a book about the subject. I’m very proud of it and I’ve tried to be as honest as I can. Sometimes you read stuff and you think it’s a sort of pretence. Mine is what I know and so it’s not just another book.”
Raining Upwards is available from Flapjack Press and will be launched at a free event at 6pm in Manchester Central Library on September 29, 2017. The launch features Henry Normal plus support from North West poets SuAndi and Theresa Sowerby. For more information, click here.
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