Hollie McNish“I seem to be writing a lot of poems about the way things are shamed a lot.”

As heard on arena

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The award-winning English poet Hollie McNish has never been satisfied, it seems, with just publishing collections of poetry. She’s collaborated with other poets, she released an album in 2014 and she’s a renowned performance poet, selling out large venues and clocking up millions of views on YouTube. Hollie also, of course, publishes collections of poetry and she spoke to Seán Rocks on Arena about her latest collection – if that’s even the right word – Slug and other things I’ve been told to hate, a hybrid of poetry, prose and memoir, which considers things like Finnish saunas, unfulfilled ladybirds, Patrick Swayze, grief, grandparents and menstruation. Hollie began by describing how the new book is put together: 

“It’s cut into seven sections, all things that I’ve been told to be, sort of, embarrassed about, or to hate. So, things like grief, or sexual things, or menstruation, or my parents. Lots of different topics and each section has got the poems that I wrote, but then it’s also got the sort of either stories, or memoir, or, like, research around the poem.” 

The idea is that a curious reader can get some background to a poem and maybe get a better understanding of it, something Hollie always enjoys when reading other poets’ work. There’s more than expanded material on a given poem, though, there are also short stories, some in verse, some not. And they’re there because, well, Hollie just likes writing stories: 
 
“I just love writing stories and I think after I’d been writing loads of poems about my own life and topics that I still find embarrassing, it was just really nice to get into fiction where I could just write a story about a horny ladybird or a naked cat. I like all the different forms of writing and I like the different forms of reading, so I thought I’d just sort of shove them all together in the book and you could pick and choose what you like.” 

For people who just want a hit of pure poetry, though, Hollie put an index at the back of the book that just lists the poems. And, of course, some people will want to work the poetry out themselves, without any help from notes or background and that’s fine too. You could even skip the poems and just read the prose, although that would be wilfully obtuse of you, surely?  

The seven sections the book is divided up into are: Endings, Growing Up, Parenting, Mirrors, Masturbation, Blood and Strangers. A lesser presenter might have chosen to talk about Growing Up, maybe, or Mirrors, but Seán – fair play to him – picked out the Masturbation and Blood sections. Masturbation, by the way, has the fabulous subtitle Ringing the Devil’s Doorbell. Are these topics, Seán wondered, that Hollie feels should be written about more? 

“I seem to be writing a lot of poems about – not just masturbation, but like, the sort of female sexuality, or the way things are shamed a lot. So, there’s sort of, I think shame is a, well, I think a lot of people think it’s a real problem. Which is why I called it Ringing the Devil’s Doorbell.” 

You can hear Hollie reading her poem Chasing Ceremony/Convincing Myself by clicking play above and Seán’s full conversation with Hollie McNish – including another reading of a poem – is available here

Slug and other things I’ve been told to hate by Hollie McNish is published by Fleet. 

Niall Ó Sioradáin 

© The Listener 2021

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