Word of warning: do not read Henry Normal‘s new poetry collection on the bus, even if you’ve been waiting a whole damn hour. Laugh, and the world laughs with you? No, it tends to look askance, then move a few seats away.
This book is filled with irresistibly wry humour, shading from the daft everyday (an ode to The coaster – mighty bastion of civilisation) to dark surrealism. Grabbing my Editor’s hat, what thrilled me were the meticulous titles. Many poets can be surprisingly slipshod, as if the criterion were ‘oh hell, this’ll have to do’, rather than thoughtfully selecting something to enhance a poem. Along with the bold question on the cover: ‘Are we having fun yet?’, the title itself is alluring. The eponymous poem comes toward the end and its poignancy is indisputable. The same is true of the final poem, and its final line, The last poem I ever wrote.
Meanwhile, A tribute to L.S. Lowry, which is so-so, is followed by the brevity and wit of A tribute to Andy Warhol’s wig. But I liked the way that many of the flights of fancy (Cardigans to the Middle East) are grounded in reality and common sense. And so much is inventive, such as Rubbing the monkey into her face and Somewhere between interest and indulgence, while others are sinister (Love Ethic), make you think or resort to Google, including My son the poet.
Henry Normal’s reputation precedes him (not least as a columnist for Northern Soul). A writer, poet, TV and film producer, he is known for collaborations with Steve Coogan, Caroline Aherne and many others. As managing director of Baby Cow, productions included Gavin and Stacey, Red Dwarf, Alan Partridge and The Trip. It makes for a hell of a CV, and this is a hell of a good read. Familiarity is said to breed contempt, but with poetry it’s often the shock of recognition which elicits admiration, as does sheer originality. Here we have both in abundance, and while the former may have you fondly imagining ‘well now, I could do that’, you didn’t. You haven’t. Henry Normal has, and how well he’s done it.
And here’s a winning combination: Manchester poet Tony Walsh (aka Longfella) on words and Flapjack Press’s editor Paul Neads on illustrations. Put simply, I Can Draw My Alphabet does what it says on the cover.
My favourites were the bewildered Octopus, and back a page, ‘Nn’ (I can draw some noodles, here are oodles in a pile) because it’s great fun to scribble them all over the place, along with copying the picture. Although, some pages don’t have a lot to copy, and with ‘Tt’ you’d think it’d be more fun to colour in the monster’s bum rather than the unfortunate boy with the torch.
But the comical rhymes are easy to learn, my only quibble being that even if repetition comes in useful for learning, there seems to be a lot of accident-prone children. It’s also a shame that the two pictures involving music show the horrendous results of efforts to learn an instrument.
Nevertheless, throughout the book both the illustrations and verse are vivid and full of life. It will keep your children happily occupied for hours.
The Department of Lost Wishes by Henry Normal and I Can Draw My Alphabet by Tony Walsh and Paul Neads are both published by Flapjack Press and available to buy now.