Bernard and Cerinthe – Linda France – National Poetry Competition UK winner

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 seahorses, Hippocampus erectus,


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

(c) Linda France


Linda France
Linda France

The plant Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ is the inspiration for this poem. Linda first came across it in a friend’s garden. It astonished her. She describes it as ‘very sexy’ with a ‘flirtatiousness about it that’s very seductive.”  If this seems an unusual description of a plant you must realise that this plant’s major purpose in life is to attract pollinating insects in order to keep the species going. Cerinthe does this so well that its common name is honeywort! Butterflies and bees alike are said to absolutely love her.  In this poem Linda has the courage to go with her perceptions and though she says she ‘doesn’t know how Bernard came into the picture’ it is his startling reaction which showcases her original sense of the plant. Linda writes with an innate humour and delicacy, the end result being a poem which though wildly imaginative and erotic remains authentic.  (Helen McKinlay’s note)

Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’
Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’

Bernard and Cerinthe won first place in the UK’s National Poetry Competition this year. It is posted here with Linda France’s permission.  The judge, Jane Yeh, commented “This strange narrative of a man being seduced by a plant charmed the judges with its vivid imagery and linguistic wit. “ To read more, go here.

The flowers of Cerinthe
The bracts (blue) and flowers of Cerinthe NB Cerinthe is so loved by bees that its other name is Honeywort

Bernard and Cerinthe is from a collection on the brink of completion. Its current title is Heliconia.   A year-long Residency at Moorbank, Newcastle University’s Botanic Garden, prompted Linda to further explore ‘exotic’ plants under glass in their natural habitats. This botanical project began with a visit to Padua Botanic Garden in Autumn 2012 and has taken her to Oxford, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Kew, Benmore, Dawyck, Sheffield, Linn and Durham Botanic Gardens.  She has just come back from Pisa, her final visit.  Linda says ‘one of the things I’m drawn to about plants,’ is that ‘they express this tremendous “Otherness”, but they just stay there and let you respond to them, unlike a bird or animal that disappears..’ To read more about her botanical interests and see her photos visit Linda’s blog here. You can see and hear Linda herself reading Bernard and Cerinthe in the film poem below.

Alastair Cook is a film maker of some twenty years standing and is well known for the quality and beauty of his work. He was commissioned to make the film Bernard and Cerinthe by Filmpoem and Felix Poetry Festival in association with the UK Poetry Society. It is important to note that the film footage is actual real film. The link above is posted with Alastair’s permission.


Selected Biography and Books:  LINDA FRANCE was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. After some time living away, she moved back to the North East in 1981. She is currently based close to Hadrian’s Wall, near Hexham, in Northumberland.  Linda has published nine collections of poetry and four pamphlets. She is also the editor of three anthologies.  More here.

And now please return to the Tuesday Poem Hub where today’s editor is Saradha Koirala with a wonderfully alive and original poem by Kirsti Whalen. Before you leave there, check out the sidebar of delights from the other Tuesday Poets.