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Jane Holland’s third collection, Camper Van Blues, is a book of journeys, both real and imaginary. The title sequence is a British road movie told through poems, one woman and her dog alone in a camper van, each jump-cut taking the reader further into the interior of an addictive, self-destructive personality. In a sequence of brief and highly visual poems, Holland explores a midnight landscape of motorways, truck stops and lay-bys, touching by turns on the issues of loneliness, drug abuse and living with depression. Taut and spare, a note of gritty humour pervades this tale of life on the road for the single woman.
The central poem in this new collection is a bold and political reworking of the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Wanderer, which is both a personal elegy and a lament for fallen soldiers by an unnamed ‘solitary drifter’. Other poems here link into that sense of loss and bereavement, and the aftermath of relationship breakdown which can lead to social isolation.
Later in the collection, Holland returns to a lighter, more lyrical note, handling poems about love, relationships and sexual attraction with confidence. There’s a return to personal mythologies too, following on from her two earlier collections, with a number of pieces based around English folklore and Celtic symbolism. Holland also explores the growing threat of climate change in several powerful ecopoems, two of which deal with the dramatic events surrounding the floods at Boscastle in 2004, where she was once a resident.
‘‘Extremely powerful and varied ... Holland has both the clarity for the reader and the mastery of language to say what she means in a way that makes the brain tingle with both shock and pleasure ... This collection is outstanding.’’ —Angela Topping
‘I reached the fourth section of the book, the Boudicca sequence, and everything went electric ... There’s a touch of Vicki Feaver about the violence and the cool delight in blood and innards, but the work is quite distinctive. I didn’t for one moment think about feminist directions – only the inner rage of the emotion, the amazing sweep of the imagery and the way I was dashing from poem to poem, completely compelled.’ —Helena Nelson
‘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
‘‘... 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