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Review: You are Her, by Linda France

Linda France's new collection explores, with commitment and generosity, questions of life experience, process and identity. In You Are Her she has created a poetry of inscapes, informed in their turn by outscapes and landscapes.

There are poems that deal gracefully with ageing and what we learn from it, like these lines from Waiting with My Yellow Dog:

The woman who sleeps all day
makes origami birds
out of toffee wrappers.

It's all about the conversation between imagination and memory within, and the precisely described world without.

Night surrenders into day
with the charm of real birds
in an imaginary garden,
fine as the cracks in my bones.

There is a maturity and tested strength here: Linda France's serious riding accident shifts behind the poems like a myth about horses,

the print
of hooves in sand... It hurts
and will always hurt; and you're utterly changed
by it.

These things shape lives, shape character and affect ways of coping and perceiving the world. Yet France's energy and zest for living win out, utterly. She writes with passion and honesty about love

Show me the place where your collar grazes
your neck; thick wool...
haloes skin, half buried, flawed, tender


from What Love is Like in Winter

In fact You Are Her repeatedly explores the theme of a flaw which is nonetheless valued and earned. Several poems revolve around Capability Brown's designed landscapes, considering maps and memory and overlaid memory - and what has been lost: landscapes erased / by tarmac and railway, time and weather. These ideas permeate poems about childhood too: 'Down the lane' and 'behind the railway line' / are continents lost to me.

Of course, what has been gained is experience. In Heartwood, the tree in the corner of the poet's living room

makes a map
of all the roads I've taken and all
the others left to tread, darkness
standing guard over the heart's direction...
Between the garden
and the hearth, it settles, rootless, home.

This long collection (divided into three sections - Her, You and Here) is more varied and enjoyable than there is space here to demonstrate. And you'll find plenty of understated humour too: I love Sadness as Billy's Leeks Fail to Win Posthumous Prize, all based on headlines from the Hexham Courant. It's also notable for its strong sense of place, with many poems rooted in Northumbria and on Hadrian's Wall, like her poem about Stagshaw Fair.

Linda France has a fine ear, and her poetry is crafted and satisfying. I enjoyed Biography:

If you were to stitch a suit
to bring a man back to life,
it would look like this...
Let two pockets flap
like letterboxes; post a single pocket
where the heart will rest.

But above all, the reader is in the presence of a distinctive voice resonant with warmth, compassion and integrity:

but you are her, and her, and her, always guessing
the missing letter, a perfect mistake.