‘There’s space for everything’: interview with Hollie McNish


Hollie McNish is a British performance poet and playwright. Her 2016 collection, Nobody Told Me, which chronicles her experiences of pregnancy and parenting, won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. She has also collaborated with Kate Tempest and George the Poet. She has released five collections, with her latest, Plum, released in 2017. Not only does she publish her work in written form, but in 2014 she released Versus, an album which features her spoken word both with and without music. She tours extensively with her books and hosts The Verb on BBC Radio 3. Creative Writing interviewed her about her inspirations, poetry as activism and asked her to pass on her advice for young poets.

What inspires you to write poetry?
I just find it a really lovely way to sort of condense my thoughts about things or work out roughly how I’m feeling – so it can be anything, from a book I’ve read to something someone has said to a walk down the road. The more I read though, the more I do, the more I want to write.

Who are your favourite poets, classical and contemporary?
I’m not sure I have favourite poets, rather than poems. A bit like with bands. I don’t know enough of full collections to say I love this poet or that poet but I really love particular poems. I love Wifred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’. I love Deanna Rodger’s ‘Being British’. I love Vanessa Kisuule’s poem ‘Not worth shaving your arsehole for’. I love Liz Lockheed’s poem ‘Abortion’. There are so many poets I love. I love the words of ‘Take Me to Church’ by Hozier, if we’re talking sung poetry.

I loved your latest collections, Plum and Nobody Told Me and I have been inspired seeing you perform in Durham. What are you writing next?
I’m always writing poems, just not sure which I might share and which will stay forever in my notepads and computer files! I write a lot of stories too so might look at actually sharing some of those. I’d like to do something fun too – something with illustrations again. Just writing a lot and slowly working out if anybody’d be interested in reading the next stuff!

We discussed some of your work in Durham Feminist Book Club this year. Do you think poetry is a useful vehicle for
activism, feminist or otherwise?
I think it can be, but I don’t think it needs
to be. Like any art. Film, painting, whatever.
Some films are so politically motivating, other films just make you wee yourself laughing, and I think there’s space for everything. I guess the wordiness of poetry is pretty helpful as a tool. I think a lot of political speeches are intentionally poetic. ‘I Have A Dream’ being the obvious example.

Do you have any advice for aspiring young poets?
Enjoy it. Don’t worry about ‘writer’s block’ just write when you want to write. And I guess the one thing I’d say is that if you don’t want to share your writing, that’s cool. If you do and you’re nervous, that’s fine too, but honestly sharing stuff is rarely as scary after as you thought it would be before. And finally, share it with actual live humans first, rather than online. I guess I don’t mean this with poems shared on the page, more if you want to video yourself reading them. Join a reading group / poetry group / go to an open mic. Don’t start with YouTube basically, start with real humans because they are a lot more supportive often than random strangers online! I only put stuff online after I was asked by a teacher at a gig if I could, but I think if I’d had the hate I got online before I’d ever done a gig, I might’ve never done one.

Photograph: Kat Gollock

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