Poetry Review: The Distance Between Clouds by Henry Normal
Henry Normal might just be the most famous person you have never heard of. Co-creator and co-writer of The Mrs Merton Show, his co-writing credits also include The Paul and Pauline Calf Video Diaries, Coogan’s Run, Tony Ferrino and the film, The Parole Officer. He also set up Baby Cow Productions Ltd, which was responsible for bringing some of the most popular comedies of the past decades to our screens, such as Gavin and Stacey, Red Dwarf, The Mighty Boosh and Alan Partridge.
However, recent years have seen Normal make his mark in the world of poetry with an impressive nine collections since 2017. He has also founded two poetry festivals, become a poetry ambassador and, on a different note entirely, had a bus named in his honour. Normal also writes and performs his occasional poetry show for BBC Radio 4, A Normal…
His latest book, The Distance Between Clouds (published by the mighty Flapjack Press) is available to buy now. Written between June 2020 and March 2021, Normal describes it with his typically bittersweet tone: “Finally, a collection of poetry about joy, positivity and optimism, before I die unloved and forgotten.” The subject matter of this collection ranges from domestic life and ageing to the pandemic, via cheese, potatoes and John the Baptist, and, unsurprisingly for somebody with such an impressive track record in comedy, his poems are rich with humour. This is often achieved through his infectious enthusiasm for wordplay, which bursts out of each page and bestows the book with an immense energy and enhances its readability. This is evident in the opening lines of I may be giving up breathing for Lent.
Repenting the sin of gluttony
my cardigan now stretches
near where it’s buttony
This also displays his trademark form of strong rhyme and metre, which guides the reader eagerly through the pages.
Some of the humour is linked to subject matter. An example of this can be found in Homage to Fromage (mentions 26 cheeses so read Caerphilly) or another of his classic list poems, this one about the horrors of vegetables, Five a day I can do in four, that contains the immortal line:
aubergine tastes obscene
However, what is so successful about Normal’s poetry, and particularly this collection, is how it manages to articulate the paradoxes and multiple layers that co-exist in our waking thoughts. Normal slips effortlessly from joyful language games into gently dark observations about mortality and the human condition, stopping us in our rhythmic tracks, such as here, in An empty hallway awaiting new guests:
I’ve forgotten most of my life
so I wonder what worth it has
if even I
have no memory
This book of poetry is written as much for those who don’t read poetry as for those who do. Its humour acts as a gateway to far deeper themes so that before you know it, you’re hooked and will lose an entire day reading it from cover to cover as I did. It is warm, accessible and never wantonly oblique, but deep beyond measure. It contains many moments of pure beauty, such as the titular poem, The distance between clouds, which truly says everything with very little.
Buy it for the poetry-haters as well as the poetry lovers in your life.
The Distance Between Clouds is published by Flapjack Press and available to buy here.
Read Henry Normal’s latest article for Northern Soul here.
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