We pooled out into a field at dawn,
a scattering of angry men
and me, fierce at the heart of them,
my back still wet with blood,
shining from the whip. I was calm,
like water. The pressure of it
frozen. Men, my men. I had those
marks on my bare legs
from damp grass, my bodice
was open, they could see
my breasts. But I was their sister,
their goddess, their queen;
my lightning grief was theirs,
my thunder anger rolled
across the milky fields, a star
for them to follow – on foot
or broken, on their knees.
by Jane Holland
This poem is taken from Jane Holland’s second collection, Boudicca & Co., a provocative and vibrant exploration of women and their roles in society. The perennial themes of motherhood, love and sex jostle for space here with elegies, poetry written for performance, and Celtic-inspired mythological pieces. Richly allusive, these poems create networks between each other, tell stories, make music and ask unexpected questions of the reader.
A collection with a powerful sense of place, Boudicca & Co. is located mainly within the British Isles, though not always in the present day. Often retrospective in mood, these poems deal with the poet’s own difficult past and with historical Britain, reinventing Celtic and Medieval stories and myths in particular. Yet there is also a Britain here that never existed, a landscape of the imagination, where a restless questioning spirituality tries to make sense of the gaps between expectation and reality.
Sensual and politically engaged, Boudicca & Co. drives narrative poetry in new feminist directions, creating a host of female characters with strong individual voices and complex agendas. The title poem is a long ambitious sequence in the voice of Boudicca, disenfranchised Queen of the Iceni who leads the Ancient Britons in rebellion against the Roman settlers. It follows Boudicca’s transition from wife and mother to warrior queen, prepared to kill in the pursuit of freedom, blindly ruthless in her desire for revenge. The sequence explores the themes of national identity, personal betrayal and civil war with dark anarchic humour and an uncompromising starkness not for the faint-hearted.
Jane Holland is an English poet, novelist, editor and former professional snooker player, born in Essex in 1966. She won an Eric Gregory Award for her poetry in 1996. Her first collection, The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman, was published by Bloodaxe in 1997. A first novel, Kissing the Pink, followed from Sceptre in 1999. One of the top poetry performers in the Midlands, she lives in Warwickshire with her husband and five children. She was named Warwick Poet Laureate in 2007.
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