Jane Holland’s second collection, Boudicca & Co., is 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.
‘Boudicca & Co. is a bold re-imagining of Britishness. Our contemporary England of Sunday roasts and cyberspace gives way to a wild and alien landscape, a place that Holland lays glinting before us “like a coin tossed in the sun / blunt-edged, foreign.” Steeped in myth and medieval poetry, this is a land of “ruins under rain,” hares, oaks, gargoyles and the Green Man. At the heart of it, embodying both Britain’s fierce beauty and its bloodied past, is Boudicca, and her voice is a startling achievement: modern, pitch-black, funny, and yet hauntingly lyrical. Jane Holland’s second collection is full of love and astonishment, a tribute to the resilience of women, to the power of literature, and, most of all, to: “England // my beleaguered sunken island.”’ —Clare Pollard
‘From versions of Anglo-Saxon to the unabashed lyric of pastoral, by way of the dragon women and velvet-palmed men of a new fairy-tale, Jane Holland’s Boudicca & Co is a book of adventurous, resonant inventions. As the title suggests, it offers a new view from the interior – of both country and psyche – in which history and geography are co-opted in effortless interplay. It’s a work of synthesis, and of poetic and emotional maturity, in which Holland emerges as a true craftswoman, a supple and graceful thinker with an effortless grasp of line, at the heart of the English lyric tradition.’ —Fiona Sampson
‘“—the grip/ of the wheel, a licence to roam.” Jane Holland’s poetry smoulders and blazes. Take your deepest breath, and go with her.
’ —Alison Brackenbury
‘Jane Holland discovered, more or less by chance, a passion and a talent for snooker. She entered a man's world where the battle to overcome bigoted rules and attitudes was as great as the battle to perfect her own skills in the field. She has turned her formidable energies and skills to poetry now with similarly turbulent and successful results.’ —Maura Dooley
‘Jane Holland's route into poetry was the unusual one of snooker, in which she was briefly a professional ... Snooker is actually a good metaphor for poetry: angling off the cush is like setting up a rhyme scheme, full rhymes give off a satisfying clack ...’ —Peter Forbes
‘In her unconventional aspect, Boudicca is peculiarly modern, and there are moments in the sequence, where modern wars and conflicts appear to be invading the ancient story. In ''Last Stand'', the woods are ''thick / with sniper fire'' and Romans beat the men with ''rifle butts''. By breaking with the historic period of the tale, Holland comments on the repetition of atrocities and war, as if Boudicca is looking forward to the suffering and dehumanisation of twentieth-century wars.’ —Zoë Brigley
‘In the process of dismantling the Boudicca myth, then, Holland has opened up new avenues for the possiblity of an engaged and visceral war poetry written by non-combatants, which evades the pitfalls of much protest poetry – we need only compare Holland's work with the anti-war 'poetry' of Harold Pinter to gain some indication of how rich and rewarding her response to modern conflict is – by shifting methods towards the imaginative and narrative elements of poetry, rather than the rhetorical and political. In this sense, the 'Boudicca' sequence has a great deal in common with David Harsent's Legion, which represents a similar attempt by a non-combatant poet to engage intelligently with the realities of war. This is, frankly, an outstanding collection, and Holland, as a result, can now count herself amongst the front rank of contemporary British poets.’ —Simon Turner