Poetry Review: Ingrid’s Husband by Paul Henry

Poetry Book - Ingrid's Husband by Paul HenryI particularly love hearing a poet read their own work aloud, and this is how I first heard Paul Henry’s work, as he read from his book Ingrid’s Husband in the cosy library at Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre in North Wales. The book takes its name from one of its poems – and it’s this poem which sticks in my mind the most.   

Henry described how, driving to Tŷ Newydd on a previous occasion, he stopped off in a shop in Rhayader, a small town in rural Wales, and the shopkeeper seemed to recognise him, asking him ‘Are you Ingrid’s husband?’. This leads to a consideration on what might have been, if perhaps he did turn out to be the man in question. It is a short poem, beautifully concise, and a perfect example of how the most amazing poetry can come from the seemingly ordinary moments in our lives.

Haunting Poems

Another poem which stood out for me was ‘Six men in search of a car’. It is a haunting poem which seems to echo a kind of impossible search for masculinity, a pathetic hunt for meaning in the modern world.

“They have turned a corner, in unison,
a makeshift pack, crew, squadron
because this is what men do well”

Henry’s minimalistic writing style is lyrical and rhythmic, opening up ideas and placing them before the reader. This is the kind of poetry I like best – poetry which asks questions, rather than answering them, poetry which presents memories, ideas and thoughts as precious, to be considered and treasured.

Tŷ Newydd

Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre

The final poem ‘Sold’ presents another intriguing idea to the reader – the notion of leaving a place but, in doing so, leaving behind a part of oneself, a chapter of life. It describes the memories almost as physical objects, the pain of making that final decision to move on.

A Sense of Passing Through

Overall this volume is full of ghosts, alternative realities, and a sense of passing through. Many of the poems follow an autumnal theme, capturing the delicate balance of moving from one season to the next, like drifting leaves. The essence of these poems could perhaps be summed up in these lines from ‘Between Two Bridges’, where Henry describes meeting the ghost of his teenage self, as he wanders through Newport:

“I meet him inside a symmetrical park.
We touch fingers, touch trees,
kick through sallow leaves…”

It is a kind of dream journey through his own past, searching for something lost.

But it is the language that really stands out – Henry’s adept use of ordinary words which become infused with new meanings when placed alongside each other. My only criticism, as with most poetry, would be a desire to find out more about the context of some of these poems. I look forward to the next occasion when I might be able to hear the poet read his work again.

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