Linda France's You are Her pivots around a section on nature, cultivation, and artifice, inspired by the life and accomplishments of Capability Brown, a landscape architect born in Northumberland in 1716, though delves also into explorations of death, time, identity, the body, loneliness, perception, transformation, and language through frequent use of metaphors of the breaking, fragility, dissolution, and ultimately regeneration of the body and psyche. France's collection is thematically joined by concerns relating to transformation, natural and facilitated by man. Some transformations are pleasing, some of human artifice, and some painful, like bodily injury, though ultimately presenting the chance for regeneration, even spiritual epiphany. Though drawing heavily from nature and animal imagery, bone seems to be France's core metaphor, one guesses as a meditation on an injury she suffered in 1995, and its effects on her view of the world.
One thing I liked about France's collection, and this is something one hopes to find in a poet, is that many lines and stanzas stand alone as memorable and worth rereading. In Dying in My Sleep, her first piece, she writes:
When I woke up I was dead;
the memory of how it happened
like a lift shaft on the outside
of the high-rise of my body.
Here are lines, nicely built, which in a few words evoke a philosophical conundrum, the idea of life as a dream. But in France's poem the dream is ominous, as she writes in the fourth stanza,
Ground floor was knowing
I was dead and this is what
it feels like: utterly empty,
wide open. And still not over.
Perhaps a corrective response to ecstatic Near Death Experiences, or the realization that 'waking up dead' means still being alive.
One of France's shorter yet poignant poems is Knitbone, which for me evokes the physical and psychic trauma of injury, but also healing, the vulnerability yet recuperative strength of the body. Here she writes:
Don't be fooled by my soft folds.
I feel the earth and fix bones.
My tuberous roots, hidden,
as all the best things are,
mend what is broken:
the cue of all my names
for curing, soothing what is sore,
unsundering. If you know
what you need, why ignore
the remedy? Let me bring my way
with bones to all your blindness.
Look again at my pleated creams:
See how I am bell and lantern.
Breath in the smell of morning rain.
Another noteworthy aspect of France's verse is its geographic rootedness, as in Stagshaw Fair, which she tells us is the
fell near Dere Street in Northumberland where there was a fair from Roman times up until the early twentieth century when it was decided it was a danger to public morality, amusing in its irony, yet evocative also of another theme that runs through her work, loss of historical locality. Stanza two reads:
I know this place, these roads, like my own bones
and also love its secrets. I've walked
the fair, the north, inside myself. Its stones
are fallen walls, markers where the way forked.
Finally, on the theme of transformation, no better piece than an excerpt from The Life Cycle of the Dragonfly:
I am what remains
on a leaf when the fly has flown,
when the dark cracks open.
If the sun is high
everything wants to rise toward it.
I heard wind
of eucalyptus leaves.
What is this I had to do?
Shed skin and bone, the soul in me,
all the gold I buried.
I was wet
as the eye of morning.
Through a small skylight
in the roof of my back,
wriggling my few grams
upward and unfurling,
I was the same
but different, a self-portrait
in molten green, a seed set free.