Startling

In 2022, Kate edited Linda France’s tenth collection, Startling (14 October), published by New Writing North, in collaboration with Faber.

Linda France’s galvanising tenth collection comprises poems written from, and into, the fabric of the sixth mass extinction. In this uncanny, yet deeply familiar world, beginnings end and endings begin, and we are tasked, as readers, to think beyond the limitations of our perception and enter the throes of deep, geological time ‘where glaciers / once scarred the rock, inscribing their own fall.’  Here, we leap across histories both real and imagined – from the medieval book of hours to a twenty-first century Climate Citizens’ Assembly – and experience the inter-connected nature of emergency. 

Throughout, binaries are deconstructed, and boundaries dissolved: daughter becomes mother, fire becomes water and destruction becomes creation. Meanwhile, the poet exhibits formal ingenuity, making the case for biodiversity not only through ecology, but through poetry itself. Across watery dreamscapes, burial grounds and cyclical orbital routes, we move seamlessly between the renga, cento, golden shovel and haibun, between wintry Northumberland and imaginary archipelagos built on the premise of common ownership. 

Rooted in fieldwork and close observation, the collection calls for a rewilding of the self as well as the landscape – a momentous task, that, France demonstrates, can only be achieved through tenderness: whether as an octopus mother dissipating into food for her young, or with the gentle patience of a gardener. Ultimately, and crucially, Startling offers a radical manifesto for kindness, utilising poetry to refresh our individual and collective imaginations, and bring about a necessary shift in cultural consciousness that counteracts the paralysis of alarm – before it’s too late. As the poet astutely asserts: ‘who of us / is ever ready?’

ENDORSEMENTS & REVIEWS

‘Like the poet Bashō, France’s poems are alive to the immensity of the moment, subtle to the pressures and urgencies of a greatly disturbed world. The result is an inversion of the elegiac – engaging a deep attention towards hope for a future. These poems feel urgent, essential, and will ask their readers to return to them.’ 
– Sean Borodale

‘Startling is a radiant vision into the mysteries of deep time and the dizzying minutiae of the present moment. Simultaneously grave and yet full of redemptive beauty, it is both elegy and urgent awakening, shot through with the poet’s ‘lucid hope’ for the future.’ – Nancy Campbell

‘Startling is a search for awareness and conviction, a response to alarm, and a determination to understand what alarm means. This remarkable book of poems is both an immersion in the consequences of societal insensitivity to environment, and also in the splendours of existence. There is a vegetal sensuousness and entwined awareness of mutability, vulnerability and persistence that grows into a statement of resistance and hope. Further loss need not happen, and this work — one of technical gusto and virtuosity — is part of that conversation and action.’ – John Kinsella

‘Linda France’s Startling manages to be both expansive and precise, braiding intimate observation with a dazzling scope. The collection is hopeful and yet full of the terror of climate collapse, time-travelling and yet absolutely of, and speaking to, the present moment. This is a poet ‘refusing to collude / in the lie / of simplicity’: ecological in her thinking, and rooting her vision into the vast web of connections and complexities behind our trembling, fragile world.’ – Seán Hewitt