by Marian McAllister
Barbara Holland was born in Portland, Maine, July 12, 1925, the oldest of three children. Her parents were both college professors, her mother in Latin, her father in architectural history; throughout most of her childhood her father was Chief of the Division of Fine Arts at the Library of Congress, commuting weekly from Philadelphia.

Barbara was sickly for the first year or two and had little contact with other children. She taught herself to read, at first from labels on food packages and ads in trolley cars. By the time she was five she was teaching me, two years younger, to read as well. Living within walking distance of the University (of Pennsylvania) Museum, where her father often took her, Barbara developed an interest in other languages, first in hieroglyphics, then in Chinese.

All three of us went to an old-fashioned "dame school" of some twenty-four children from the University of Pennsylvania community. The single room held "classes" ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade. Barbara then attended private schools, graduating from the Baldwin School in 1943. After a freshman year at Smith College, she transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where she received both a B.A. and later a M.A. in English literature, completing the course work for a doctorate.

She was always very independent, finding such employment as working on a new edition of the dictionary for Merriam-Webster in Worcester, Massachusetts, at a college in West Virginia, in researching genealogies, translating Spanish poetry, and for a stock broker on Wall Street. By the time she moved to New York in the 60's, she had decided that her writing came first and that any other occupation was simply to support her very modest living requirements. In Greenwich Village, which she described as full of familiar faces like a college campus, she felt at home.

From Reviews of Barbara Holland’s books:

  • Harlequin and spy, magician and wizard, seer and saboteur-these are the roles Barbara Holland assigns to the poet. And in the nine volumes of her poetry published since 1967 we have come to apprehend a distinctive voice in American literature. None of the exhibition and whining self-pity of the autobiographical school, none of the arrogant self-righteousness of the social reformers, none of the complacent collecting of self-centered trivia and effete ironies of the New York school... but a strong, vivid, often violent voice, shattering complacency with a fine, rich sense of language and its possibilities...
  • Invariably, the narrator portrays herself as an outsider, observant yet selective and active:

  • What I bring
  • out of this witch-crazed moment I shall turn
  • to uses of my own,
  • rebuild, rewire, reactivate with sound

  • Here a vision is presented both beautiful and ominous, hinting at the obscure and irresistible roots of things...
  • Many of Barbara Holland's wittiest and most brilliant poems are those of invective and malediction. She neatly carves up pompous businessmen, fatuous hosts and false would-be lovers. (The only acceptable lover must, of course, be a demon lover, Mephisto himself, or something even darker and more primeval.)...
  • There is an intense yearning expressed in one of the finest poems to be found in all the collections, "Not Now, Wanderer":

  • The high howl of my hunger
  • for you swoops, a lost bird

  • And yet this seek and search can be fruitful, even in its unfulfillment:

  • With this suspense and the concentration
  • of desire, I make my instrument
  • of destruction and creation.

  • If we can speak of a philosophical world view prevailing, in the poetry, it is a sense of the cosmos as mystery, as inexplicable, unpredictable, beyond the laws of rationality...
  • Barbara Holland patron classical poet would be the Ovid of the Metamorphoses. And her partner in magic and ambiguity in the visual arts is the Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte...Barbara Holland's poems often achieve the same effects as Magritte's paintings...
  • Few poets writing today can compare with Barbara Holland in her richness of imagination, fecund with surprising transformations — and her corresponding verbal ingenuity.
  • — Robert Kramer in Poets (NY), April 1978

A feminist and an iconoclast, Holland arrived in New York in 1962 [reading] at St. John's in the Village, McBurney YMCA, Les Deux Megots and the Cafe Metro. ... Fleeing the claustrophobic atmosphere of the 'baccalaureate mill', Holland began freelancing and devoting herself to poetry full-time.
Barbara says, "Poetry was my personal rebellion against the second-handedness of the scholarly criticism which comprises doctoral work in literature and the file-clerky business that it is."
Barbara received a CAPS (Creative Arts Public Service) grant in 1974. She divides her time between readings in Boston, Baltimore and New York, guest edits magazines around the Eastern seaboard, and continues to publish widely in magazines across the country.
I asked Barbara, "Do you write at a certain time during the day?" She replied, "Never during the day. I wait until all the crazies have gone to bed and have stopped screaming at each other and until all the other crazies have stopped using the elevator, then I write."

—Claudia Dobkins, in Contact II, Spring 1979

Barbara Holland is a master before whom many, or most, if not all more famous poets should quail.
—Kirby Congdon, in a review of Autumn Numbers

A true poet of urban romanticism...a seeker of found objects, to whom the jagged and rusty are mysterious and beautiful...A major poetic voice from the coffeehouses, off-off Broadway theaters, poetry jazz readings, lofts, cafes and churches in New York's literary ferment...A wry romantic.
—Olga Cabral, in Contact II

..wanders through the bleakest wastes of terror and loneliness without a dram of self-pity...
—David Cunliffe, BB BKs

The Sybil said, "The road to Avernus is easy; the road of return rough and extremely difficult." Barbara Holland has taken this road again and again with no difficulty at all.
—Richard Kinter, Maryland Institute of Arts and Sciences

A new book of Miss Holland's poems is a celebratory event ... the best poems of the collection are characterized by the surprises of imaginativeness but the logic of the unforced ... the effect of each poem is cumulative rather than occasional, their often memorable conclusions not the snappy endings of weaker authors but inevitable culminations of their poem's energies.
—Martin Mitchell, editor of Pivot

Barbara Holland, the New York City poet of our time, an eccentric woman of vast writing ability.
—Louise Simons, Off the Wall (National Public Radio)


Chapbooks and Books

  • Return in Sagittarius(Muse Editions, Eventorum Press, 1965)
  • A Game of Scraps (Prairie Poet, Charlton, Illinois, 1967)
  • Autumn Numbers. (Grim Reaper Books)
  • Autumn Wizard (The Poet’s Press, New York, 1973, several printings)
  • Crises of Rejuvenation (2 volumes, The Poet’s Press/Grim Reaper Books 1975-1977 — two printings and then a one-volume second edition with author's notes.)
  • Melusine Remembered (Bard Press, New York, 1974)
  • On This High Hill (Cherry Valley Editions, 1974)
  • Burrs (The Poet’s Press/Grim Reaper Books, 1978)
  • In the Shadows (The Poet’s Press)
  • Collected Poems, Volume 1 (The Poet’s Press/B. Rutherford: Books, 1980)
  • Running Backwards (Warthog Press)

Anthology Appearances

  • The East Side Scene (Allen DeLoach, editor, Anchor Books)
  • We Become New (Bantam Books)
  • May Eve: A Festival of Supernatural Poetry (Rutherford, ed., The Poet’s Press, Grim Reaper Books, 1975)
  • Love, Etc. (Harris, ed., Anchor/Doubleday Books)
  • Dr. Generosity Anthology (Harris, ed.)
  • For Neruda/For Chile (Lowenfels, Beacon Press)
  • A Tumult for John Berryman (Haris, ed., Dryad)
  • Intime of Revolution (Lowenfels, Viking Press)

Special Honors

  • Creative Arts Public Service Fellowship (CAPS), 1974
  • MacDowell Fellowship, 1976