Footnote to History

Footnote to History


Something my cousin said,

some footnote to history

like the Christmas truce in World War One.

Some story about my uncle’s minder

taking him for a drink

on their way back from the prison hospital.


But what amazed my cousin was

the German had un-strapped his gun-belt

and left it suspended from a hook.

Imagine the shadowy-lit interior

with its single bulb

like a moon three days shy of full,


the fug of fifty brands on smoke

pressing on the imprisoned air.

Imagine the double helix

from the cigarettes of friend and foe,

and the amber mugs of beer

shoulder to shoulder on the bar.


And hanging heavy in their cups,

the holstered guns at the edge

of the room. At the edge of my uncle’s eye.


Taking the reader on a journey from the historical to the personal, Michael Henry’s third collection, Footnote to History, charts the life of a man through two world wars and into the late twentieth century. Through the interwoven voices of the protagonist and a third-party observer, Henry explores the shifting tides of innocence, certainty and identity, capturing different eras with his acute ear for changing colloquialisms. He tells his tale with his characteristic gentle humour spliced with moments of high emotion that are never sentimental.

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Michael Henry’s Footnote, unlike those with which historians underpin their narratives, tells its own tale; one with a vitality missing from most historians’ narratives. His poems have the fine grain, the breathing immediacy, the tantalizing transitions, of photographs in a family album. Together, they comprise a miniaturist’s War and Peace, set not on the central European plain but in the Proustian memory of a survivor from another war, another haunted peace.Jon Stallworthy

I like these poems, particularly for a conciseness and luminosity of detail which works beautifully in support of the overall theme.Alan Brownjohn

‘What makes a good collection? Whatever the magic is, this is one. … This collection, with its distilled feelings of love, grief, guilt, joy, sense of belonging and helplessness, shot through with brilliant images, shows why poetry is vastly more important than prose. The twentieth century was formidable. I feel enriched by this way of seeing it.R G Felton

NOTE: The cover image was reproduced with permission by the then Chambre Hardman Trust. The archive is now part of the Chambre Hardman Museum, held in Liverpool by the National Trust.