Boudicca, Matt HawThe jacket is black and white. It is divided effectively in half by an illustration, a photo, I think, of an ancient circular shield, one quarter of which curves up from the bottom right hand corner, filling a large area. Top right, outside the shield area, the jacket is black. On this black area the title of the pamphlet, and the author's name appear in white lower case letters. The title is largest and centred, taking up nearly the full width of the jacket. The author's name is right justified in line with the right hand edge of the title.

Templar Poetry, 2021   £7.50

Enigma and mystery

I need some more / details to get your story straight (‘How Easy It Would Be Not to Think of a Quail’)

In Boudicca, Matt Haw plays with the elusive and enigmatic. Written without any punctuation, the text has a dreamlike ambiguity.

Perhaps the most striking of these enigmas is the central character of the pamphlet, the warrior queen Boudicca. Variably called ‘Boudicca’, ‘Boadicea’ and ‘Buddug’ (the Welsh version of her name), Boudicca takes on different guises in different poems. In poems such as ‘Kitchen Sink Psychodrama’, she exists in a domestic context, acting as a vehicle through which to explore a father-daughter relationship.

In ‘The Evening Shift’, too, Boudicca appears to be a modern-day woman getting ready for work, the only hint of her special significance coming at the end of the poem where

Boudicca dabs a finger
in her ultramarine eyeshadow
& paints her cheeks
with warrior stripes

Elsewhere, however, Boudicca is presented as an ancestral figure, or even a survivor of an apocalypse.

In ‘Aquatic Ape Theory’, for example, she is shown ‘submerged to her top lip / in river water’. The title of the poem is a reference to the theory that humans diverged from apes by adapting to a watery environment. In ‘A Vision for the Topographical Future of East Anglia’, Boudicca ‘rules her regency’ amid ‘submerged bungalows’ and the ‘ruins of churches’.

Indeed, setting is another enigma. In ‘The Urban Regeneration of Her Tribal Land’, the setting seems at once present-day and end-of-days. There are ‘caved in trampolines’, ‘overgrowth’ and ‘a ruined signal box’, but there are also electric street-lamps to cast a ‘shallow’ ‘spotlight’ on ‘council commissioned sculpture’.

This wonderfully elusive publication, packed full of startling images, is all the stronger for being hard to pin down. In Boudicca, we encounter a poetry that unsettles us and makes us question our securities, who we are, where we come from and where we are going.

Isabelle Thompson