A workshop with poet Hollie McNish

In continuing the trend of diversity on display at the World Unite Festival, the Union last week proudly welcomed the multi-talented spoken word poet Hollie McNish to its doors as part of its Speak Up programme. Speak Up works as a range of events for spoken word, poetry and knowledge sharing that aims to bring students and the literary community closer together, a goal epitomised in Hollie’s evocative performance workshop. Running earlier in the day than most gigs, Hollie shared with her audience a collection of poems before leading the audience on their own poetic course of creation. Her educative and welcoming approach to poetic performance offered the audience an opportunity to create their own poetic works, lending a friendly creative atmosphere that is what Speak Up ultimately stands for.

To say Hollie’s poetry has been an up and coming force on the spoken word circuit in recent years would be an understatement; the enigmatic dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah himself recently proclaimed ‘I can’t take my ears off her’ in praise of her acutely fashioned and neatly phrased poetic voice. She was UK Slam poetry champion in 2009, representing the UK and finishing 3rd behind Canada and the USA in the World Poetry Slam Finals in Paris, whilst her most popular YouTube videos ‘Mathematics’ and ‘Embarrassed’ have garnered over 3 million views and are well worth a listen. Yet what makes her ultimately enjoyable has to be the delicate touch of the ordinary she brings to her poetry, transforming the mundane, trivialised aspects of her existence into personalised accounts that skilfully play with language and rhyme in an amusingly self-conscious fashion. So much of her poetry resides from her everyday experiences and thoughts, and her ability to transform these reflections into a complex type of poetry produces a result that is consistently pleasing to listen to.

While her creative output has been consistently strong over the last few years, with two poetry collections – Cherry Pie and Papers – and three poetry albums, Touch, Push Kick, and Versus, her recent touring has been to promote the work from her newest book Nobody Told Me, a collection of poems and stories taken from her diaries during and after her pregnancy. The book perhaps offers a more matured poetic style than previously anticipated in Hollie’s work, yet one that is still fully relevant as she ponders the diversity of personal and political issues on raising a child in modern Britain. Her readings from her most recent book, interspersed with older poems such as one about her loving relationship with her Grandad, were exceptional and offered a rare insight into her beautifully simple poetic thought process.

However, Hollie’s aim in performing is not just about promoting her own work, but in equally getting everyone else involved in poetry as a form of expression, which is what her workshop ultimately aimed to do. The workshop offered the audience a fun and open platform on which to express and experiment with our own poetic ramblings, the results of which were certainly engaging and provided some pretty entertaining insights. What’s clear is that everyone has a story to tell, and while most might not like expressing it, performances from poets like Hollie McNish certainly go some way to unlocking those stories and allowing poetry to flourish where it may not have done so before.

Oscar Ponton

Image courtesy of Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer New Review

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