The Beauty Within Shadow: Henry Normal, Flapjack

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I am going to admit that during lockdown I have found it very hard to read anything of any substance.  Newspapers, magazines, periodicals, online dross were all tolerable, but for the first five months I barely read a book. Things have improved and I am now regularly ploughing through library e-books and titles I have ordered through Hive online (highly recommended and NOT Amazon).

But even now I am struggling to read poetry. Not what you need to read on this website. I feel ashamed and baffled but there it is. I heard someone on the radio saying she couldn’t read anything BUT poetry so … Then during a dreary night of sleeplessness I heard Henry Normal on Radio 4 Extra – and what a joy it was. 

These poems were written between August 2019 and June 2020 and certainly cover light and dark periods. From days on the beach at home in Brighton with his son and wife or luxuriating in Portuguese sunshine, he finds inspiration everywhere. Increasingly I find he writes in a more serious vein, but even so he still finds humour to share.

‘Free verse at discount prices’ starts by quoting Robert Graves – “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either”:


     It’s not the racket to pocket a packet

     Or put a pretty penny in your poet’s purse

     Being a bard – banking is hard

     There’s no blank cheque for blank verse


     Your name’ll never

     Be synonymous with money

     Unless you’re Ezra Pound


It pairs nicely with one called ‘Poem for those who inadvertently forgot to buy a book during the interval’:


     I blame myself

     I’m not sure I mentioned I had books for sale


     No – it’s a simple fact

     The quality of the poetry in the first half obviously failed

     To entice a purchase


It goes on in the same vein including very good reasons why books have not sold. As a member of poetry audiences I have often run through all the same reasons. Painfully funny. Normal finds the wry in everything from pineapple chunks  and sun loungers to solar panels and Tunnocks teacakes. He even ponders pooh-ing through the ages and the French attitude to men’s swimming trunks.

But a great deal of his poetry nowadays is tender and touching. Life with an autistic son has already coloured his work immeasurably and lovingly. So when you throw in lockdown you can hear him thinking darkly:


     On today’s one outing for exercise

     From Seaford Head to Cuckmere Haven

     I stop, as always, by my brother’s bench

     Overlooking the Seven Sisters

     It’s warm enough to walk but not to settle

     Lambs stay close to their mother

     Without need for social distancing

     People pass each other

     on the opposite side of the path

     no one is in a hurry

     we have time to kill or be killed’

             (‘It seems like the sun has been self-isolating’)


‘Home schooling’ tackles the way we have all changed our domestic habits from endlessly washing our hands (“hands like deadly weapons”) to ekeing out toilet paper and teabags. ‘The beauty within shadow’ begins:


     There is often light

     In the darkness

     Once your eyes adjust

     And when your sight fails

     It is said other senses



And ends:


     Maybe another sense rises

     To help us become

     Light ourselves

     Or returns us to a time

     When all was in balance

     Awaiting ignition


Henry Normal, The Beauty Within Shadow, Flapjack Press, £8


◄ The 'man in the cardigan' was gently ribbed by Ian McMillan. But does he have a point?

Calling all primary schools and children at home - roll up for a Giant Poetry Party today! ►


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M.C. Newberry

Sat 30th Jan 2021 16:15

A name I shall bear in mind for future investigation. Thank you.

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Julian (Admin)

Thu 28th Jan 2021 10:02

Thank you, Judy. A lovely little review. These sound like perfect poems for the times through which we (don't) move. The old and the new Normal, perhaps?

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