Interview with poet Linda France

Jade Cuttle 27 October 2014

"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.” 

In the interest of intellectual investigation, it seems we should be all encompassing, launching from the linguistic fabric of the lexis itself. With regards to the relation between nature and nurture, where the inside and the outside merge, this is the inspiration behind the prose book she is in the process of writing; she insists that 'Nature' and 'Nurture' are “both totally inadequate terms for a practically limitless network of interconnections.” In escaping the limits of lexical conditioning she sees 'Nurture' not simply as “standing for what human beings bring to the story, the conditions and consequences we set in motion in the sense of wholesome, beneficial”, but equally “how we cultivate certain things and they become our 'culture', individually and collectively.”

It is little surprise that the attempt to clarify the co-existence of these different elements finds comfort in natural imagery, “writing about flowers is allowing me to explore this in a natural, rooted way." However, what is surprising is the sharp self-awareness poetry can possess, as Linda’s poems demonstrate, where the artistic medium assigns itself purpose pushing far beyond aesthetics, and seemingly before the pen has even been picked up.

It therefore follows, perhaps, that poetry is neither a fruit grown primarily for the pleasure of the reader, nor for the poet in their personal pursuit of understanding, but rather concerns the plea of the poem itself for purpose as an artistic medium, should poetic purpose even exist at all.

Linda France's most recent collection, You are Her, was published in 2010 by Arc. You can read more about her work at: www.lindafrance.co.uk. The National Poetry Competition 2014 is open for previously unpublished poems with a first prize of £5,000 and the closing date is 31 October 2014.