Why bring out a poetry book during a pandemic? Henry Normal writes for Northern Soul
Most commercial endeavours seem to be waiting for lockdown to be eased further before launching anything new. Certainly caution is now standard in the creative industries. Poetry has never been that commercial, though, let’s be honest. And though creative, it’s hardly an industry. So, I’m releasing my latest collection The Beauty Within Shadow.
There’s a famous quote from Don Marquis that ‘publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo’. So, you might ask, why publish a poetry collection at anytime?
That’s a good question, but I would say we need poetry more at this moment than at any period during my lifetime. Poetry in essence is a form of communication and our superior ability to communicate is what raises us above the other animals – and indeed any virus.
Now, you may not think this if you were crammed on a crowded beach recently or in the middle of a teeming pub, coughing without a face mask. But, generally, for reasonable humans, our ability to communicate and understand communication is key to who we are. So, what are we communicating about our current predicament?
Well, there’s the Government statements if you’re a fan of fiction. Plenty of statistics, some of which contradict other statistics. The idea of them counting every pair of surgical gloves as two items to increase the numbers of PPE they could boast about supplying says all you need to know about statistics. I wouldn’t be surprised if they counted each sheet of toilet paper as a separate item.
There’s the constant re-writing of recent history as though we all have the memory span of a goldfish. If someone in the future relied solely on government statements to understand what went on in the UK during the pandemic, they’d find it akin to Harold saying he won the Battle of Hastings by cleverly catching a Norman arrow in his eye.
There is, of course, the professional media response which has its own agenda and restrictions. The inadequacy of mainstream media was never illustrated with more frustration than during the Cummings fiasco. All those journalists on the Downing Street lawn and not one pointed out that his trip to Barnard Castle was on his wife’s birthday and that she can drive, so she could take them back to London and therefore he didn’t need to test his eyesight. Not that you should be putting the public and your own child in danger by driving to test your eyes in any circumstances. There they all were, face-to-face, ignoring the blindingly obvious to everyone else in the UK as though cohorts in the most insultingly blatant conspiracy of ignorance. So the traditional media is not where we find the actual truth.
Then there’s social media which has some merits in terms of cutting through hypocrisy and lies. The use of humour on Twitter and Facebook and other platforms often hits the spot. A recent comment on Facebook that Dominic Raab has been downgraded to Dominic Rbbc made me laugh as did the tweet: ‘Increasing A level grades will mean a whole generation could end up promoted beyond their abilities,’ says Minister for Irony. I do find, though, that an extended diet of social media is like fast food and leaves me seeking more substantial nourishment.
Publications like Northern Soul can provide this nourishment and so too can books, and in particular poetry books. Poetry, like humour, works best when it expresses the real truth of a matter. You might call it a greater truth. If we think about the Great War poets, their personal voices echo down the generations with more authenticity than all the Government propaganda of the time.
My book is no weighty tome. I’m the first to admit that I’m a fairly lightweight poet and that very often wading through my work you wouldn’t get your ankles wet. But among the packaging and garnish I do, like most other poets, at least try to find truth. I believe it is up to all of us to chronicle the times we live through. We have had enough history concerning the lives of monarchy and the ruling elite. We are now in a position to write our own history and shed light on our own lives. Not only the external landscape, but internal as well. What it felt like to live through the pandemic, how it altered your dreams and your fears.
At the moment, I’m fascinated with ‘why’ we communicate. From the earliest cave paintings, humans seem to have a need to express something of their world beyond their own skull. I wonder about my own need to communicate and know only that it’s there. Like many people, I write not out of need to make a living but out of a more fundamental need to understand who I am and who we are. Robert Frost said of poetry: ‘I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.’
Since getting back into poetry five years ago, I’ve had seven poetry collections published by Manchester-based publisher, Flapjack Press. Two weeks before lockdown, they released my first hardback poetry book The Escape Plan which was a selected works. You might think that I’d bide my time before bringing out a new collection but the truth is that once The Beauty Within Shadow went to press, I immediately started work on my next book.
If early humans could crawl in the dark and scrawl the shapes of their world on uneven walls with primitive makeshift tools, it would seem churlish of me to lack the same effort with a new Apple computer, spellcheck, thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary.
Another poetry book probably makes not the slightest difference to the world anywhere, ever. It may contain little of interest to any other living soul. It may contain only a meagre amount of perception or truth, but it shows that at least someone tried. As reviews go, I’d settle for that.
Main image by Danny Moran.
The Beauty Within Shadow is published by Flapjack Press and is available to buy now.
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