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Waterfront Festival

Henry Normal Talks Nottingham Poetry Festival and His Castle Rock Brewery Beer

4 April 17 interview: Alex Kuster

After the success of the first Nottingham Poetry Festival in Autumn 2015, there are over fifty events going on from Friday 21 - Sunday 30 April. We had a natter with curator and Baby Cow Productions funnyman Henry Normal to talk all things poetry, being a Nottingham lad and his new beer, obviously...

What’s the first thing you do when you’re back on home soil?
I travel backwards and forwards quite regularly. I’ve still got family and friends back in Nottingham so obviously I see them. For the festival, I launched the Henry Normal beer at the Vat and Fiddle on Monday 2 April, where we had a festival preview.

How does the literature scene in Brighton compare to Nottingham’s?
Do you know, I never spend that much time around Brighton, even though I’ve lived here for twenty years – I was working in London and used to commute a lot. So I’ve never got to see that much of it. I know Nottingham a lot more than Brighton! If Nottingham had a coast, I’d live in Nottingham.

How does it feel organising this festival compared to the first one?
It’s great working with Tommy [Farmyard Records] again, cause obviously he organised the first one, and Craig [Chettle, Notts TV]. Obviously we’ve got a lot of local organisers involved. It’s great getting back in touch with them all. I was really touched by the goodwill of all the organisers.

What inspires you within your personal poetry?
My understanding of poetry is that it’s about communicating your perception. So I write about what I perceive around me, in my small corner of the world. But obviously it’s from the perspective of the man who grew up in Nottingham on a council estate instead of a lot of poetry you might read, which can be a bit more middle class.

You’ve just launched your very own beer with Castle Rock Brewery, how exciting! Would you describe yourself as golden and mild?
That don’t sound too bad at this stage in me life. I don’t think I was ever raucous when I was younger, I’ve always been slightly mild – as you imagine most poets to be. Although Byron, maybe not so much. Ooh golden, that’s a lovely sort isn't it. I think you embrace that when you get older. I think when I was younger I considered myself to be more phosphorus. Golden has substance, as opposed to tin, if it were tinny then I’d worry.

What can we expect from your performances this year?
When I started the first group I was involved with in my teenage years, it was at Nottingham Central Library and they published my first pamphlet Is Love Science Fiction, and the first ever performance that I did was the Christmas Show for the library writing group. I thought it’d be nice, with the library getting a bit of a bashing, to do some free shows for them. So I’m doing eight free shows alongside a guest poet at each show. I’d just like people to come along, maybe read a poem and enjoy. Each show will be very different. I wanted people to know what they were letting themselves in for. Calling it poetry seems fine and knowing they’ll only be there for an hour.

Is there anyone you’re particularly looking forward to interview or see perform this year?
Oh yes, I have a fondness for Wendy Cope. I performed with her around thirty years ago and I know a lot of people are very fond of her. Simon Armitage will probably be the next poet laureate, and quite rightly so. He’s got a very good graft on what works as poetry and what works in terms of communicating it to the rest of the country. I like him. I think he’s very solid and very true to himself.

What advice would you you give to an undiscovered poet?
I like that we’ve got local poets on with the national names, so that they’re sharing a platform. It’s great to be on the same bill. They should take confidence from that and see that it’s just different people at different stages of their career. I think that if you’ve got the poetry inside you, it should find its way out. The main thing is not to write what you think other people want to hear but write what you need to write.

In many an article, you’ve been called the ‘funniest man you’ll ever meet’, how do you uphold that title?
I think ‘It’s the funniest man you’ve never ‘eard of.’ I spend a lot of time working with famous comedians, who obviously quite rightly get the limelight. So I’ve been the man behind it, as it were. And I’ve not really seen the limelight. I quite like the idea of being able to work with very talented people but not get too much hassle on the bus when I’m going home.

As patron of Nottingham City of Literature, are you happy with what the UNESCO title has done for the city so far? What else is to come?
It’s still early days. I think the idea that we’ve been named makes you a little bit taller, puts a spring in the step. There’s a lot that can be done. I’ve found that putting forward the Poetry Festival, there’s a wealth in there that just needs to step up. We just need to do more for the other 52 weeks of the year.

After some sleuthing, it was uncovered that your real name may be Peter Carroll. Is that so? If yes, why the change to Henry Normal?
Well I was working for an insurance brokers in Nottingham and I was performing, during the late seventies, early eighties, with pop bands like Pulp. I didn’t want my lawyer to know I was doing that cos I used to go sometimes during my lunch hour. I would go to the local colleges and stand up and perform. I’d got my work clothes on, which was a suit. Standing up in front of punks in a suit, I thought I’d best have a name that was appropriate. By calling myself Henry Normal, I’d already usurped their expectations.

Then, when I moved to Manchester, everybody seemed to be Smith fans. I’ve always sort of performed to performed to people who weren’t exactly the same as me. I think the idea of preaching to the converted seems a bit of a waste. I’m always trying to take poetry beyond that. If you’re doing poetry for other poets, it becomes an ever-decreasing circle. I think there’s something unhealthy about that. I’m a big fan of poetry like Burns; for ordinary people to read and get something out of. The idea of having to have a reference book beside you when you’re reading a poem defeats the object of it.

You have some massive achievements under your belt, what can we expect from you next?
I’ve just done a radio show on BBC Radio 4. It’s a half-hour show called A Normal Life. It was Autism Awareness Day, some of the poems in there are about my son and some are just about life. I’ve also got a new book out, it’s actually a book of poems from about thirty years ago – poems I wrote in Manchester – called Travelling Second Class Through Hope. If you tap ‘Flapjack Press’ in on Google, you’ll find all that. There’s also a lovely picture of me when I was thirty.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to LeftLion readers?
Please get engaged with the Poetry Festival. There are a lot of events where you can go along and read a poem, so do take the opportunity to get involved.

Nottingham Poetry Festival takes place from Friday 21 - Sunday 30 April 2017, in venues all over the city

Nottingham Poetry Festival website

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