HOLLIE MCNISH: I’M NO GOOD AT POLITE CONVERSATION
The poet Hollie McNish, whose exclusive new poem features in The Escape Issue of Popshot, speaks to editor Matilda Battersby about writing and parenthood
Hollie McNish’s viscerally honest memoir and poetry collection about becoming a mother, Nobody Told Me, won her the Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry 2016. The 34-year-old spoken word performer has since published another poetry collection, Plum, and her YouTube videos have been watched by millions.
Popshot was one of the first journals to publish Hollie’s work years ago, which was why when we invited her to submit an unpublished poem to the current issue she agreed to readily. We were amazed to receive “Magic Show”, a brilliant, funny poem about the awkwardness of children’s parties — and wishing that orange squash was absinthe. The poem is accompanied by a beautiful illustration by Esther Lalanne (above).
MB: Thank you for submitting “Magic Show” to The Escape Issue of Popshot magazine. I think any parent (or anyone who has been to a bad party) can empathise. Was there a particular children’s party or experience that inspired it?
HM: I feel really guilty about this poem! There wasn’t one bad party in particular that inspired it, just lots of different ones thrown together. Parents spend so much time just sitting around watching kids being active and having fun. I guess that’s part and parcel, but I find the constant politeness around parents you don’t know quite hard. I’ve realised I’m quite filthy minded and I’m not good with polite party conversation. I feel the same at adult parties where everyone stands around talking about their jobs while drinking wine. I think I prefer kids parties to those ones.
MB: We publish mostly emerging writers in Popshot. Do you have any advice for new poets and authors? Something you wish someone had said to you in those early days?
HM: I’m not sure. I didn’t aim to be a writer. I started doing poetry mainly through live readings. I was getting into development admin work when the poetry happened. I guess I’d say enjoy it. And, I’d suggest reading as much as possible. If you want to write, read and read first. Or listen to audio books and poetry collections. Oh, and don’t put anything on YouTube until you’ve done some live readings. Real people are much nicer than people online can be.
MB: You’re touring at the moment. How important is it to you to perform poetry and what does the response to live readings give you?
HM: I really like meeting people at book signings after the gigs. Personally, I love going to live music concerts. Live things are always special. Not necessarily better, just different. I also think curling up with a book on your own is bliss. But there’s something nice about listening to a band or poet in a crowd. I don’t love performing. I get nervous and feel sick a lot. But I love meeting people after the gigs. It’s the only part of my job where I’m not on my own!
MB: Parenthood is a major theme in your work. Personally, I found Nobody Told Me a really helpful antidote to preachy parenting books as a new mum. As your daughter grows up, how is it impacting on your work, and in particular, the shift from absolute dependency when they’re babies to becoming independent and strident little people?
HM: It’s great. That’s it. I think the first year of being a parent is so fucking difficult. I go away now and my daughter can come or not come and is fine either way. I learn a lot from her now. But I’m more careful about what I’d share now, in terms of writing about her. I feel I’ve shared enough already!
Hollie McNish’s poem “Magic Show” features in The Escape Issue of Popshot magazine.
Illustration by Esther Lalanne.
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