POETRY: 'Bernard and Cerinthe' by Linda France – winner of the National Poetry Competition 2013

Today our One Garden group read one of Linda France’s poems alongside a couple of poems by Seamus Heaney. It made a big impact on everyone.

Linda was winner of the National Poetry Competition 2013 for her poem ‘Bernard and Cerinthe’;

NPC 2013 1st Prize – Bernard and Cerinthe from Filmpoem on Vimeo.

Bernard and Cerinthe
by Linda France

If a flower is always a velvet curtain
onto some peepshow he never opens,

it’s a shock to find himself sheltering
from the storm in a greenhouse,

seduced by a leaf blushing blue
at the tips, begging to be stroked.

He’s caught in the unfamiliar ruffle
of knickerbockers or petticoat, a scent

of terror, vanilla musk. If he were
not himself, he’d let his trembling lips

articulate the malleability of wax;
the bruise of bracts, petals, purple

shrimps; seeds plump as buttocks,
tucked out of harm’s way, cocos-de-mer

washed up off Curieuse or Silhouette.
But being Bernard, he’s dumbstruck,

a buffoon in front of a saloon honey
high-kicking the can-can. Can’t-can’t.

He attempts to cool himself, thinking
about sea horses, Hippocampus erectus,

listening to the rain refusing to stop,
soft against the steamed-up glass.


From the Poetry Society website we learn;

First published in 2013.

Winner of the National Poetry Competition 2013.

Filmpoem by Alastair Cook, commissioned in collaboration with Alastair Cook and Filmpoem.

From the judge: ‘This strange narrative of a man being seduced by a plant charmed the judges with its vivid imagery and linguistic wit. Its precisely honed couplets move from elegant description (‘the bruise of bracts, petals, purple // shrimps’) to a tragicomic climax, in which our hero finds himself ‘a buffoon in front of a saloon honey / high-kicking the can-can. Can’t-can’t’. Truly imaginative and richly musical, ‘Bernard and Cerinthe’ is as much a pleasure to read on the page as it is on the tongue, and as such was the unanimous choice of the judges for first place in this year’s National Poetry Competition.’ Jane Yeh

Linda France on what inspired the poem: ‘I remember very particularly the day I wrote this poem, actually. I went to visit a friend of mine who has the most beautiful garden. It was the end of August and there was a plant I’d never seen before: Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’, and I was just astonished by it. It’s a very intense blue and the leaves are a silvery green… they’re quite thick, almost waxy, fleshy. That’s one of the things I’m drawn to about plants, they express this tremendous “Otherness”, but they just stay there and let you respond to them, unlike a bird or animal that disappears….’

You can listen to a podcast of Linda talking about winning the National Poetry Competition – HERE http://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/national-poetry-competition/resources/


Linda France, winner of the National Poetry Competition 2013, is based close to Hadrian’s Wall, near Hexham in Northumberland. Since 1992 she has published seven poetry collections with Bloodaxe, Smokestack and Arc, including The Gentleness of the Very Tall, The Toast of the Kit-Cat Club, book of days and You are Her. She has worked on numerous collaborations with visual artists and musicians, as well as public art projects. Linda also edited the ground-breaking anthology Sixty Women Poets (Bloodaxe 1993).


Reviews here – https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=reviews+’Bernard+and+Cerinthe’+by+Linda+France+-+of+the+National+Poetry+Competition+2013

LINDA FRANCE poet: "The mystical power possessed by nature is one of many layers Linda peels back through poetry…"

Linda France Nat_Poetry_Comp_47<a
Interview with poet Linda France Story: Jade Cuttle

Image credit: summonedbyfells

"We are all flawed, short-sighted and confined within our own conditioning," declares Linda France, "but we can push our boundaries by empathizing with others, reading poetry.”

The perspective that poetry is a portal to an extended range of understanding, a stepping stone in our search for clarification, endows poetry with a pleasing sense of power and purpose. However, if such flaws and short-sightedness extend to everyone, even to poets, then it is difficult to imagine how this purpose is possible.

Linda France has published seven poetry collections including The Gentleness of the Very Tall and The Toast of the Kit-Cat Club and edited the ground-breaking feminist anthology Sixty Women Poets. She won first place in this year’s National Poetry Competition for her poem entitled 'Bernard and Cerinthe', painting a man’s erotic encounter in a greenhouse with a Cerinthe flower. Whilst the seed of inspiration was slightly less sensual, the poet was left almost as “astonished” as Bernard following her surprise at stumbling across something she had never seen before; the “fleshy, flirtatiousness” of a Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ as it “conceals and reveals at the same time”.

“The most reliable hook that draws me in is curiosity,” she explains, “piqued by something that resists my sense of knowledge.” In what is described as a mix between intrigue and nosiness, her curiosity is channelled into a “commitment to peeling back layers.” If layers of understanding are first peeled back on a personal level, then poetry is arguably more important for the poet than for the reader, and thus, inspiring people to push their own boundaries becomes a by-product of this process.

The mystical power possessed by nature is one of many layers Linda peels back through poetry, though, despite having lived in Northumberland for thirty-three years, she confesses she has still not unearthed its truths. There is “an attraction to darkness or otherness” she insists, taking root in childhood warnings such as “don't go down the lane” and “don't go into the woods”. This attraction is rooted in exclusion, pinned down to being “painfully separate” and applies to her personal approach to poetry as she admits “there has always been something there, a curiosity, an absence, and I wanted to fill the gaps.”

To read the full interview pop over to here