Book Review of Heartwork by Linda France, PlaySpace Publications (2012)
Heartwork is much more than an essay, and indeed I found myself looking through the publication and at the images before I settled into the text itself – a combination of Linda France’s essay and collection of poems, hers and those of others. This is a multilayered piece of work carefully balanced between the theoretical, contextual and personal sharings by the writer, a woman, once a child, now formed and still forming in her expression of herself and her world.
Linda France makes clear in her Endnote that this work began as a talk, and more than that, a talk given while on retreat. In development the piece has not lost its warmth of presentation. She says this is a work in progress and I was delighted to be included in that process with the publication of this book which draws together so many of her discoveries demonstrating her concept of Heartwork and ‘heart language’.
From the opening paragraph and poem, I felt I was listening as much as reading and being invited into an exploration not only of words, but images in words as well as actual images. Like the complex theme of this work, there are layers of meaning spanning her ‘experience of geographical and linguistic displacement’, through discovery of significance and practice of Buddhism to her growing trust in the intrinsic valuing of herself as a writer of poetry – ‘Work?’ As I ‘worked’ my way through the book, I warmed more and more to the insights into Linda France as a person who writes, as much as Linda France the poet. That may sound odd because obviously all poets are people, but few let their readers into their world as generously and deliberately as she does, a world of ‘receptivity, open to not-knowing and infinite possibility, where solitude and silence is the default setting trying to keep my centre of gravity in my belly rather than in my brain.’
Throughout the book, she uses a broad selection of carefully selected quotations that she comfortably and sparingly integrates in her prose, choosing from writers and poets from Keats to Frost, Ted Hughes to Czeslaw Milosz and the final ‘Postcript’ of Seamus Heaney. The reader has access to whole poems as well as single lines and excerpts, all of which ‘fit’ and add to the depth of the reader’s experience as Linda France shifts in words and images from theory to philosophy to practice, leaving me at the end enriched and eager to expand my own world of poetry. She has a lightness of touch and an ability to touch and move on which encourages slow reading and absorption of ideas – something that I have learned from Ben Okri’s often repeated theme that each word matters.
At the centre of the book, deliberately I want to imagine, Linda France and her publisher, PlaySpace Publications, have placed her translation of the 1st century text: ‘Heart Sutra’. While I found no one definitive poem or section in Heartwork, this does stand central to her exploration, offering clarity in the complexity of ‘conscious openness’, what Pema Chödrön calls ‘groundlessness’. Ironically, this forms the paradox that Linda France clearly works at enthusiastically with the essence of her ‘wholehearted focus on ethics and awareness.’
‘Everything is open. Opening. Wide open.
Open to awakening. Joy!’
Translated version of ‘Heart Sutra’ by Linda France
And alongside the text is the photograph of an engraved stone with the words:
HORSE CHESTNUT –
There is much in Heartwork to absorb, digest and ponder on, and Linda France has opened many doors through agreeing to publish what started as a talk. The Endnote details past collaborations with artists, and sources all the texts included in the main body of her writing. Although the book is Linda’s, it is her quotation of Czeslaw Milosz’s words and his reminder that encapsulates my experience of Heartwork:
‘…the purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys to the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.’
Rosie Hopkins 8 February 2013