Jane Holland is an established English poet, critic and former editor, born in 1966. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1996 and later edited Blade, a poetry magazine, and Horizon Review, an online arts journal. She also works extensively in fiction.
Disreputable was originally published by Bloodaxe Books in 1997, under the longer title The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman; it has now been revised and reissued in digital form on Amazon Kindle. Jane Holland followed up her debut with Boudicca & Co. in 2006 (available on Kindle) and Camper Van Blues in 2008, both from Salt Publishing. She has also published two pamphlets, On Warwick Castle from Nine Arches Press and The Wanderer from Heaventree Press, both in 2008. The Wanderer is a controversial new English version of the Anglo-Saxon poem, and is also available as a Kindle edition.
The green arch of the bridge says sleep
The low slope of the ﬁeld says sleep
The vole, lowering its head in the hedgerow, says sleep
The evening smoke says sleep
The white wall and the white fence say sleep
The canal, turning and wending, says sleep
The grim army of pylons says sleep
The dream of the cows, dreaming, says sleep
The leaf, midway between green and gold, says sleep
The ﬂat shock of the horizon says sleep
The red tiles of the station say sleep
The ﬁerce heart, unbending, says sleep
and sleep again.
But the coiled snake of the soul, hissing,
retreating, slipping its leash
and beating its tail at the door of the heart
says wake, wake and the fall is forever.
Cherchez la Femme
There is rain on the windows
when I am born
into a cold November.
The midwife is Caribbean,
complaining of these British winters
even as I slide into her arms.
Rain becomes my season.
I walk out under the dark clouds
like a missionary,
preaching the world of the wet.
I kneel on the earth,
put my face to the dampness
like a child hidden
in her mother’s skirt.
Later, unable to wear lace,
I ﬁnger photographs
of beautiful women.
Run my hands along lapels,
loving the coarseness of a country tweed,
the brisk crease of a man’s shirt.
I sit apart,
smoke French cigarettes, unﬁltered,
my room dark with desire.
Each night, it falls at my window
like sharp insistent rain.
My desire is insatiable.
It has many names.
Watching through streaked glass,
I know none of them.
The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman
It starts here as a table
in a back room. A busy pub,
a sideways look. The girls all
cheering when I drop the black.
A moment in between the kids,
a breath of silence slow
but true, across a table
in a small back room:
saying yes for once, not no.
Like Lazarus, I walk
from sleep, still stripping
off the winding sheet,
and take a cue from the rack
at the back of the club,
into the darkness
like a somnambulant.
breeds in corners at my step
fall like evening
through these hanging lamps,
the gold-fringed shades.
This cloth is a lawn
to lay my head on, listening
to the beat of earth. They stare
from bar-stools, stalk me.
The men close ranks:
their shields reﬂect
as I clear the slate.
I am unwelcome here.
The door is there, they say,
and take the time to show me out.
But I am back again tomorrow.
Sliding the new cue
like a blade from its sheath,
until reﬂections turn to circles
in their goldﬁsh eyes.
They cannot shut me out.
I have a right, a claim to stake
across this battleﬁeld,
this bed of slate.
Their smiles are baited,
locked in place
until the silence is a war
that I seek out –
no choice of arms:
I ﬁght left-handed on their ground.
I play the men.
and then I lose again.
I learn to stroke the ball away,
to catch the centre when I can,
ﬁnd that timing
when the going’s sweet,
the baize is running like a race-horse
and the bets are down.
To take the risks
and never cheat.
I watch the best:
body moves to wrist,
wrist falls to hand,
this silent discipline
of heart and mind.
I hammer home
like a goldsmith,
working a delicate grip
into the hit,
the pendulum arm true
as a perfect right-angle
when the cue
I start to win:
short sharp burst
of pure adrenalin.
I learn to dodge
these empty shafts of sunlight
in the club, the arrows
when a woman
who walks alone
and rows of tables
dares to call them home.
Then others come.
They walk in,
taking the dust-covers
from the baize
with an awkward hand,
learning the touch of the cloth,
the deep furrow
left by a still hand,
ﬁngers spread like a starﬁsh.
First we are two,
then three, then four.
I pull them in from businesses,
from raising kids, from streets,
from empty doorways,
we are stronger.
We take a name for ourselves
and make it ring.
in the spirit of the game –
a name engraved
in silver on a cup.
not through games on baize
but in changing truths to ﬁt
the end, till nothing’s
what it seems. In their lies,
I recognise revenge.
I’ll not give them what they want –
a public apology.
This ban is straight and true.
What started as a sideways look
will run for life,
You will not cross into that smoky room.
There was a time – but now it’s passed.
Your feet are dancing to a different tune.
We touch, but only while the music lasts.
And when I talk you through your chart,
the music says far more than words could do.
Like stars, we are a million years apart,
though every angle in between is true.
That smoke-ﬁlled room where we have met
a thousand times is just my empty heart.
Your je ne sais quoi, our tête à tête,
were simply ways to set the record straight.
You’ve moved away, and I’ve moved on.
So why am I still dancing to your Moon?
Not a Love Poem
Sing me a love-song that has nothing to do with love.
Write me a line that cuts straight to the bone.
Show me a heart bent back like a blade,
white as a knuckle in the heat and the hate of despair.
Throw me your silence like the slow arc of a curve-ball.
Avoid my eyes, they are terrible as truth.
Purchase Disreputable (Kindle Edition) in the UK and USA.
Visit Jane’s blog Raw Light.