National Poetry Competition
First Prize, Linda France

'Bernard and Cerinthe' Filmpoem by Alastair Cook
Commissioned by Filmpoem and the Felix Poetry Festival in association with the Poetry Society

Linda France
Bernard and Cerinthe

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.

On what inspired the poem, Linda said: ‘I remember very particularly the day I wrote this poem, actually. I went to visit a friend of mine who has the most beautiful garden. It was the end of August and there was a plant I'd never seen before: Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens', and I was just astonished by it. It's a very intense blue and the leaves are a silvery green... they're quite thick, almost waxy, fleshy. That's one of the things I'm drawn to about plants, they express this tremendous “Otherness”, but they just stay there and let you respond to them, unlike a bird or animal that disappears. A plant remains for you to give your attention to. I love that. I got absorbed in this flower and my sense was that it was very sexy, as many of them are. Cerinthe conceals and reveals at the same time, it has a flirtatiousness about it that's very seductive. I don't know how Bernard came into the story, but faced with this out-and-out flirt of a plant, he doesn't know what to do. So that's how it happened, really. Obviously it didn't all come fully formed, but it arose from looking at the flower.‘ You can listen to a podcast of Linda talking about poetry, and winning the competition, on our website.

Linda France

Linda France is based close to Hadrian’s Wall, near Hexham in Northumberland. Since 1992 she has published seven poetry collections with Bloodaxe, Smokestack and Arc, including The Gentleness of the Very Tall, The Toast of the Kit-Cat Club, book of days and You are Her. She has worked on numerous collaborations with visual artists and musicians, as well as public art projects. Linda also edited the ground-breaking anthology Sixty Women Poets (Bloodaxe 1993).



From the judges...

'This strange narrative of a man being seduced by a plant charmed the judges with its vivid imagery and linguistic wit. Its precisely honed couplets move from elegant description (‘the bruise of bracts, petals, purple // shrimps’) to a tragicomic climax, in which our hero finds himself ‘a buffoon in front of a saloon honey / high-kicking the can-can. Can’t-can’t’. Truly imaginative and richly musical, ‘Bernard and Cerinthe’ is as much a pleasure to read on the page as it is on the tongue, and as such was the unanimous choice of the judges for first place in this year’s National Poetry Competition.' Jane Yeh

Read the other poems...

First prize: 'Bernard and Cerinthe' by Linda France
Second prize: 'Among Barmaids' by Paula Bohince
Third prize: 'Love on a Night Like This' by Josephine Abbott

Commended poems:
'Push-bike' by Elaine Gaston
'Hare' by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
'Gift of the Sloth' by Debbie Lim
'Birdfall' by Danica Ognjenovic
'crepuscule with nellie (take six)' by Ken Taylor
'CCTV Central Control' by Tom Warner
'I Stop Wearing the Mini-Skirt, 1972' by Patricia Wooldridge




Email: Robyn Donaldson
Telephone: 020 7420 9880


NPC History



National Poetry Competition

The National Poetry Competition 2014

is open for entries! 

Judges: Roddy Lumsden, Glyn Maxwell and Zoë Skoulding. 

First prize: £5,000