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.

For further information, go to Salt Publishing.

Please note: we’ll be taking a break over Easter – the Weekly Poem service will resume at the beginning of April.


We left him sleeping peaceful in the night
but they have tied him down, bony wrists
wrapped in a sheepskin cuff, lashed tightly to the rail.

He was fierce after we left, they say:
shouting, tearing at the drip. Hard to believe it
of this gentle man, but this morning,

unbound for the time we’re there, he cavils,
clawing at the needle in his arm, moaning
and stubborn, baring his teeth at us

when we refuse. I stroke his fettered hand,
his paper forehead, murmur comfort,
courage, anything. He shakes me off, tossing

his head, red-eyed, an angry ram. Ha!
I must remember who I am: his child,
just a child, why do I question him?

So I hold my tongue, but stay. Lift up the cup,
with its candy-striped concertina straw,
to his splintered lip and he, in resignation, sucks.

Yes, we make a meagre congregation, father,
disobedient. The flesh, indeed, is weak.
Still, remembered echoes of his sermons come:

a promised child, the tangled ram, the sheep-clothed son;
last-minute rescues, legacies, and lies.
The promised and the chosen, certain hopes.

How, from these stories, are we to be wise?
His word was clear and sure before, but now
his raging, rambling, shakes this listener’s heart.

And yet, to be here, of some small use,
is a kind of peace. Three spoons of food,
oil for his hands, his feet. Then at last,
at last, returning to gentleness, he sleeps.

by Isobel Dixon

This poem is taken from the painful sequence ‘Meet My Father’, gathered in A Fold in the Map, which forms a searching exploration of grief at a father’s final painful journey into death.

A Fold in the Map is a nod to Jan Morris’s Trieste And The Meaning Of Nowhere, where the traveller’s state of in-between-ness is explored. Robert Frost said “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a home-sickness, a love-sickness” and in these poems of love and longing for home, family, and other loved ones, Isobel Dixon draws on a rich store of natural imagery, illuminating the ordinary at times with a touch of wry humour. Her vivid poems will speak memorably to travellers, lovers and all those who mourn.

Isobel Dixon was born in Umtata, South Africa, grew up in the Karoo region and studied in Stellenbosch, and then in Edinburgh, before the world of publishing lured her to work in London. She now lives in Cambridge. Her poetry has been widely published in South Africa, where she won the Sanlam Prize and the Olive Schreiner Prize for her collection Weather Eye. Internationally, her work has been published in The Paris ReviewWasafiri, Avocado, The Guardian, London Magazine, and The Tall Lighthouse Review, among others, and has been translated into Dutch and Turkish. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including several of the British Council New Writing volumes, and she read on the first Oxfam Life Lines CD. She does regular readings around the country, often with a group of London-based poets, and has also participated in two group pamphlets Unfold and Ask for It by Name.

For further information, and to read more of Dixon’s poems, go to Salt Publishing.

Gerald Variations

Maybe you have an empty room to charter to his likeness; but you do not know this Gerald by whom I am enthralled – because he renovates my mind with his very presence like a hardback anthology of insights I dip into whenever I am bedridden by a head-cold. And unfortunately asking him about it is out of the question.

Maybe you have a missing button that fell into the bouillabaisse; but you do not know this Gerald whom I cannot stand – for the esoteric arrogance of his every utterance is like a vital ritual in an obscure and terrifying religion. And unfortunately he is not here to defend himself.

Maybe you have exaggerated the dubious moral relativism of your township’s museum; but you do not know this Gerald to whom I am indifferent – for his trespasses have come to disappoint me, like the overstated hallucinogenic properties of a harmless dried root. And unfortunately I have spent all the money intended for utility bills.

Maybe you have recorded an album with a caged seagull and two agnostic percussionists; but you do not know this Gerald whom I love – for I have known the fiscal security of his patronage like a doctor’s hand against my heart. And unfortunately he will not extend the same courtesy to you.

Maybe you have manufactured and sold a range of oblivion-flavoured sweets; but you do not know this Gerald whom I loathe – for I have felt the humiliation of his scorn like fat spitting from a frying pan or fireworks in a celebration against me. And unfortunately I was too taken aback to retaliate.

Maybe you have had sex on a bicycle without sustaining or bestowing a single injury; but you do not know this Gerald with whom I am currently eating a hot dog – because we are both hungry. And unfortunately I have dripped mustard onto his copy of The Cloud of Unknowing.

Maybe you have sought his face in cross-sections of courgette; but you do not know this Gerald to whom I am currently dealing little deaths – because I trod in dog excrement on my way back from the post office. And unfortunately I am wearing shoes with an especially deep tread.

Maybe you have skipped across the rocks and broken your leg on an abandoned rowing boat; but you do not know this Gerald to whom I feel superior – as, for all his intelligence, he has forsaken his humility and humours my ideas like a cat toying with a shrew. And unfortunately the irony of the situation is lost on me.

by Luke Kennard

From The Harbour Beyond the Movie
Shortlisted for Best Collection in the Forward Poetry Prizes 2007

Luke Kennard is an award-winning poet, critic, dramatist and research student at the University of Exeter. His first collection of prose poems The Solex Brothers was published by Stride Books. He has worked as regional editor for Succour, a bi-annual journal of poetry and short fiction and as an associated reader for The Kenyon Review. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2005.

Web page and podcast of the poem available at Salt Publishing

Review quotes

“When was the last time you laughed out loud at a poem? If you can’t remember (and chances are you can’t), treat yourself to The Harbour Beyond the Movie. Luke Kennard considers pressing contemporary issues – from comparative economics to journalistic accountability – via a wittily didactic brand of surrealism which renders the politics palatable … Kennard’s collection proves that humour is a neglected but effective tool in the poet’s arsenal.” – Sarah Crown, The Guardian

“To read him is to be startled into remembering exactly how exciting and energetic language can be, as it forces us to face the poignant absurdity of experience and to laugh out loud or cry in equal measure. Kennard is an undoubted original, driven by a mature intelligence and a giant wit, yet guided by the wisest, self-deprecating heart. A brilliant new writer you simply must not miss.” – Andy Brown

“Luke Kennard’s The Harbour Beyond the Movie is scintillating, funny and often moving.  Reading it reminded me of how I felt when I first read Muldoon, tuning into a new frequency, the frisson of hearing a voice for the first time: so eerie and odd and delightful – you realise that is why you were searching in the first place.” – David Morley