Interview with Holly McNish
How old were you when you started writing poetry?
About 6 I think, well that's the age on the first poem I have in a folder I've always put them in. It was about how my dad hated cats and my mum was thin like a pin!!
When and where was your first poem published?
This year, in Popshot magazine. Most of my poetry I think is better spoken, so I haven't tried to publish any written stuff. I'm just finishing an album at the moment. I really like hearing poetry spoken, and I listen to a lot more than I read. Both would be good if possible!
Where do you find your inspiration?
Mainly from reading the rubbish in the newspapers, from reading magazines like New Internationalist, and from things I studied – I just spent two years studying human rights, immigration, agriculture and trade – that gave me a lot of info. I tend to write when I'm angry, or if I wanna get across something I've read in a study across to a wider audience – intellectual, high language drives me mad 'cos it's so elitist most of the time, especially when it's about things which are really important for everyone to know about. Apart from that, just from looking around...and from music and friends (for the nicer poems!).
Which of your poems is your favourite and why?
Seriously, I have no idea, I've got about 300 and only ever read out about 35 max. I like 'Hate' a lot I guess, especially since the BNP been getting more votes, 'cos I've been told it makes people reconsider their thoughts.
What has been your greatest (poetry) success to date?
Reading 'Hate' during anti-racism week to loads of different school classes and getting great feedback from all the young people. That was a great success for me.
Do you have a special place you write?
Anywhere, as long as I have a pad and a pen! No special place at all ... sometimes I have to pull over in my car in case I forget lines!
Who is your favourite poet and why?
Too many to say. I read a lot of music lyrics actually, and poetry too – I kinda think they're the same thing. It was more music than poetry that influenced my writing style I think – I love grime music and mellow or UK hip hop– MC Solaar, Arianna Puello,Tor, Ms Dynamite garage style, Dirtty Goodz – I love fast, word-full music! And I love hearing poetry in other languages. In terms of poet poets, perhaps Benjamin Zephaniah and Deanna Rodgers. Jasmine Cooray, Bunmi Hazzan and I love Keith Jarrett – they're all people I've seen since I started performing and they're great!
What was it about Cleo Henry's poem that won her the under 18s Poetry Rivals competition?
It was the honesty of the poem for me, the fact that it seemed less stylised and to really come from her heart. And the performance part too (as it was a performance poetry contest), she seemed to have a beat in her head whilst reading, a wee tapping of the hand to her hip while she was doing it and spoke it off by heart with a lot of emotion. The language was simple but effective and easy to understand. Also, the audience appeared to be listened more intently than to others and I like to gauge the audience's reaction and include that in the judgement.
You're a relative newcomer to the poetry slamming scene yourself - do you have any advice for anyone thinking of taking part in a poetry slam for the first time?
Do it! I waited for ages, it took me over 10 years to even consider reading and then a whole year of going on my own to open mic nights before I got up and read! I might also suggest NOT starting with a slam but going to an open mic like the Poetry Café in Covent Garden. That's where I started and I think it's nicer to read somewhere for the first time that isn't part of a competition, which a slam is. I don't think I could've started if I knew someone would hold up a number out of 10 after I read.
Has living between London, Cambridge, Reading and Glasgow had an affect on your poetry?
To be honest, I don't think so! I think the things I write about happen everywhere and anywhere really.
Has motherhood changed your poetry style?
Not really, although I'm writing more at 5am between feeds now, and more spaced out most of the time. I guess though I have written a few nicer poems about my baby, whereas most of my normal poetry's a bit angrier! But I am still writing that too.
Can you tell us more about Shape East Spoken Word?
Shape East is where I work - it's an environmental urban planning charity! I write for them as part of the youth workshops we do with young people, finding out what they want from their neighbourhoods – 'cos most decisions get made in planning without asking any young people – which is why so many youth clubs and facilities like that are been discarded in new housing estates. I write most poetry their about young peoples views and also use it in workshops as a way of them voicing their opinions to local Councillors, architects, planners and politicians ... a few of the poems are up on audio on
Do you have any projects in the pipeline you'd like to tell us about?
Yeah! I'm really nearly finished my first album, called Touch, with about 20 poem tracks and 5 with music. I'm really excited about it, have a friend finishing off the artwork for the booklet and then it'll be ready for sale. Also, got a collection getting done for anyone wanting to see the experience from being pregnant to having a baby ... that's gonna be for donation though, not profit ... I can't say too much about that but very excited. I've also been commission by Radio 4 to write a poem for their Glastonbury Diaries programme, recorded at Glastonbury, which I cannot wait to go and do. And sent a poem off last night as part of a project running in Argentina, focusing on the politics of place and poverty. So yeah, lots, well as much as possible while spending all the lovely time with a newborn – but she does sleep and eat sometimes – so I do it all then!
"Most of my poetry I think is better spoken, so I haven't tried to publish any written stuff. I'm just finishing an album at the moment. I really like hearing poetry spoken, and I listen to a lot more than I read. Both would be good if possible!"
By Hollie McNish
Little Jake's out on the attack, he's got a knife in his hand to go stab up a black 'cos his dad said that skin colour is bad and Jake never questions his dad. His dad's been in the BNP since he was thirteen, believes everything he believes 'cos his grandad before him believed it, like, 'slavery is a good thing', 'dark skin's all the same and those people are to blame for everything from rising crime to tax evasion'. He doesn't understand any difference between Caribbean or African nations, never heard the names Guadeloupe, Kenya, Dijibouti, Zimbabwe, no patience for facts, in fact HE THINKS AFRICA'S A COUNTRY NOT A CONTINENT, just tells his son to attack, so Jake storms out seeing black with a knife in bag. AND MATT doesn't even know there's this red cross on his back, he's just sitting in maths packing his school bag as his mate walks in, sits down and says hey, says he's heard rumours the boy round the corner school's gay, he's says they're all the same, he says his mum says hell, fires and flames for benders, queers and hand bent walking pervs, he says Elephant Man's right, the only thing those faggots deserve is to burn. So he grabs Matt, shows him a knife, smiles and puts it back in his bag. AND RYAN doesn't even know they're about to walk past, he's just sitting at home waiting to chat to his dad. He's reading the papers about more terrorist attacks, bombs in school bags and suicide bombers apparently bragging about Christian blood on their hands. HE READS THE HEADLINES EVERY DAY AND BELIEVES EVERYTHING THE NEWSPAPERS SAY, his dad says they're all the same, his gran says all Muslims should be put in jail and while he's never read one word of the Qur'an, just says his dad says its the book of those Taliban gangs. So Ryan goes out to get even. AND SANDEEP probably won't even realise the reason he's just seated outside with his school mates, eating, doesn't know his smile might be wiped out by evening, as he chats about religious attacks he's been hearing. His mate says it always the same, says the whites think they're best and it's always the same, says the white boys at school call him names, says his dad says white people are all the same. No difference between Russia, Greece, Scotland, no difference between upper, middle, working class or men or women or rich or poor OR PERSONALITY, just says they should settle the score. So Sandeep runs back to his pad, gets a knife from his drawer and shoves it into his bag. AND JAKE doesn't even know he's about to be had, as he takes the knife out of his bag seeing the brown skin of Matt, as Matt catches the eye of Ryan the queer, and Ryan gets his knife ready to settle his score with Sandeep and Sandeep sees the pale skin of Jake. Five minutes later, they stand. Jake's got a knife in his back and a knife handle in his hand, blade severing the skin of Matt, who stands with a firm first around a handle screaming 'cos of the blade in his back, behind Ryan with a blade in his back and his hand, Sandeep stabbed in the back with his hand on the back of the blade in Jake's back as BLOOD, BLADES, GENERALISATIONS AND FALSE CLAIMS LIE IN CIRCLES OF CHILD OLD CORPSES still on the pavement, where every day, everywhere sees the same bloody fate:
© Hollie McNish
Beautiful: Victoria Beckham or a Flower?
By Hollie McNish
As my friends sit once again chatting about how beautiful Victoria Beckham is, I wonder if they've ever stepped outside and looked at a flower, a tree, or waves breaking in the ocean creeping slowly towards the beach. As my friends sit once again chatting about the beauty of Victoria Beckham's new surgery, her chiselled cheekbones, her Slimfast trim, the powdered skin of expensive make surrounding her permanently lasered lip lined glossy lips, how well, they say, they sit, the new pert plastic surgeon's bits of plastic lift beneath her biggened bits of breast tissue, how they too wish they could do that perfect pout practised a thousand times in a million different mirrors, I wonder what they mean by beautiful. As they discuss her beautiful leather Gucci boots, her boobs, the food she doesn't eat to keep her figure beautifully lean I wonder what they see by beautiful. I wonder if they've ever been beneath the stars or felt the warms hands of a best friend rub oil along their naked backs or eucalyptus scent onto their chest when the bin behind their bed is looked in the mirror at their own beautiful reflections filled with flu-fuelled tissues. They discuss her shoes, her beautiful glossy hair extensions, her gorgeous Beckham palace, her leather bags and million-dollar diamanté jackets a million mothers, sisters, daughters long to have so they can look as beautiful as that woman. And I wonder if they've ever kissed anyone, if they've ever looked directly at the sunset and sat 'til sunrise, run wet through raindrops dripping seas from cloudy skies, if they've ever cried with pleasure or dried tears with their own fingertips from someone else's eyes. As my friends sit once again chatting about how beautiful Victoria Beckham is I wonder if they've ever stepped outside and looked at a flower. Or scraped the make-up from their own faces, and looked in the mirror at their own beautiful reflections.
© Hollie McNish