We Hear All About Collected Poems: Volume Two, the Brand New Book From Notts Legend Henry Normal

Words: Lizzy O'Riordan
Photos: Henry Normal
Saturday 10 September 2022
reading time: min, words

From co-creating the British TV classic The Royle Family to setting up Baby Cow Productions with Steve Coogan, Henry Normal has had an industrious career in the arts. But since retiring, the 65-year-old has turned his hand back to his first love, poetry, and is celebrating his second volume of Collected Poems, published last month by Flapjack Press…


When I sit down to talk to Henry Normal over Zoom, he’s wearing a sling, having broken his arm three weeks prior. But despite the injury, he’s still excited to talk about poetry. In fact, he’s been spending his recovery time reading other people’s favourite poems, after sending a call out on Facebook to fellow poetry lovers near and far. And as for his own collection, his appetite seems equally healthy, as he tells me that there will be “at least three volumes of Collected Poems, hopefully four”. Each of these contains three of his slimmer poetry anthologies, in the case of Volume Two: This Phantom Breath, The Department of Lost Wishes and Swallowing the Entire Ocean. 

A lover of poetry since a young age, Henry remembers publishing his first collection when he was only nineteen, sold at Nottingham’s Mushroom Bookshop in the 1970s and entitled Is Love Science Fiction? A product of his time atthe writers group in the Central Library on Angel Row”, it’s something he looks back on fondly. And in the present day, after what he describes as a twenty-year break, his passion for the form is back in full force - with the wordsmith penning nine books in five years, re-starting with Staring Directly Into the Eclipse, published in 2016.

Do you think there’s any particular theme to your poetry? I ask Henry, wondering which are the topics that come up again and again. After thinking for a moment, he laughs, “It’s funny, because Amazon tells you which category your books are in, and I’ve been ranked 27th in the category of death and loss poetry, and also about the same in the category of inspirational poetry. So it’s varied, though to me they’re very similar in my outlook on life. Really, though, I suppose the collections are a diary of my internal landscape, and that’s something that can change from year-to-year. But they’re all about mapping out surroundings and coming to terms with life.” 

The collections are a diary of my internal landscape, and that’s something that can change from year to year.

Reflecting his most recent internal landscape, Normal’s latest poetry is steeped in family life, capturing the quaint loveliness of spending time with his wife, Angela, and son, Johnny, in their east Sussex home - a life which he refers to as at a slower but deeper pace than before. “In a way, anyone who reads poetry is eavesdropping,” Henry says, and his poetry certainly allows us to be a fly on the wall for his thoughts. 

Musing on poetry more widely, Normal seems fascinated with the topic of connection, and how we create art to connect with each other. “I think all poetry, whether long or short snippets, fulfils our desire to communicate. One of the best ways to describe poetry is to say that it’s the communication of perception, and it’s quite nice to see how someone else perceives the world, because we all perceive it so individually,” the author tells me.  

Spanning from his early twenties with The Department of Lost Wishes, all the way to his sixties with This Phantom Breathe, Collected Poems: Volume Two certainly succeeds in showing Henry’s changing perception of the world. The former is focused on yearning for a sense of love and belonging, and the latter centres around the death of his brother and his retirement from the TV industry - yet both capture the fears and thoughts of their present moment. “I thought it would be nice to include that second book from my twenties,” Henry says. “When people look at me now, they think I’m some grey-haired old buffoon. But I was once in my twenties and I had thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams, so it’s nice to have some registry of that for people to relate to.” 

So, when you ask me if I’m proud, the answer is that the poems feel like home to me.

I ask Henry what this poetry collection means to him and whether he feels proud of the achievement. He responds by considering the concept of belonging. “You know, I’m working on a radio show and the next one is all about home, so I’ve been trying to think about what home is and I’ve got it down to the fact it’s about acceptance. Home is where you are, who you are, and where people accept you,” he muses. “So, when you ask me if I’m proud, the answer is that the poems feel like home to me. I would accept these as a representation of what I’m about.” Taking a tangent, Normal starts to talk about his first memory, which takes place on Seymour Street in Nottingham, during which he’s four years old and holding a bright red plastic fire truck, moving it back and forth on a window ledge. Then, drawing it all into the point, he adds, “The overall memory I have is that of being present, experiencing a moment where I was just me. And I feel the way about my poetry. That I accept them as myself, and I’m happy with that.” 

Available as of last month, Collected Poems: Volume Two reads as an honest and often funny selection of poems, offering a range of perspectives from both a younger and older man, meeting together in one collection. A place of home, it’s a pleasant visit for the reader, and a real achievement for the author, who doesn’t plan to give up writing any time soon.  

Collected Poems: Volume Two is available through Flapjack Press


We have a favour to ask

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion

Please note, we migrated all recently used accounts to the new site, but you will need to request a password reset

Sign in using

Or using your

Forgot password?

Register an account

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.

Forgotten your password?

Reset your password?

Password must be at least 8 characters long, have 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, 1 number and 1 special character.