When I was fourteen, our English teacher, Mrs Stockell, a gap-toothed, lion-haired woman everyone was afraid of, asked a few of us to lead a fifteen-minute ‘lesson’ on a single poem. Anthologies like The New Poetry (1962) and Children of Albion (1969) had introduced me to the thrilling work of contemporary poets nothing like our set texts and I chose Adrian Mitchell’s "Norman Morrison", the story of a man who set himself on fire outside the White House in protest against the Vietnam War. I loved everything about the process – choosing the poem, reading it aloud in the class and asking questions about how it was written, and why, what it was saying.
It was all very passionate and exciting, and also a relief – talking about poetry let us get to what was really important, matters of life and death. That and a voracious reading habit set things in motion. It seemed natural to begin writing my own poems – I’d already tried my hand at stories and plays, short historical dramas about powerful women. Later, writing poetry was more easily squeezed into the spaces when my children were at school and I became very absorbed in studying it, creating my own organic apprenticeship.
I was lucky enough to start getting poems published in magazines, winning competitions and finally having my first collection, Red, published in 1990. Since then, it still seems to keep happening and there are seven more, as well as several pamphlets, and words sprung off the page into stone, wood, metal, ceramic, glass and textile. And here I am, still talking to people about poetry, reading and writing it, exploring the ways a single poem might touch us, change the way we see the world and help us live together in it.
LINDA FRANCE is based close to Hadrian’s Wall, near Hexham, in Northumberland. Since 1992, she has published eight poetry collections with Bloodaxe, Smokestack and Arc; her latest is Reading the Flowers (Arc, 2016). She also edited the ground-breaking anthology Sixty Women Poets. Linda has worked on a number of collaborations with visual and sound artists and held a Leverhulme Residency at Newcastle University’s Botanic Garden, Moorbank. She won First Prize in the 2013 National Poetry Competition and was Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Leeds 2015-16.
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Reading the Flowers