Posh new publisher, same brilliant Hollie McNish
Picture the scene at Manchester Central LIbrary – hundreds of (mainly) women, listening and laughing like drains at stories about sex, body image, babies and children, more sex, men and yes, a bit more sex. Have you got it? Yes, Hollie McNish has a new collection of poetry out and that means a lot of laughter even if some of it is a bit on the wry side. It’s what Loose Women thinks it is but isn’t – brash, ballsy, sharp as a tack and as warm as a snuggly cuddle.
In Plum Nish looks back at some of her early writing and introduces the reader to a person in the making, the one before the million YouTube views. And no surprise – she was good then as well. She is obviously chuffed to be published by Picador (“posh publishers, even though they keep asking me not to say that”) and this collection was edited by Don Paterson which sounds fun. Apparently he was a bit disappointed that a poem about thrush wasn’t about A thrush but THE thrush – the poem didn’t make the final cut. But the one about chlamydia did. As did the one about her and her pals telling a schoolfriend how to give her boyfriend a hand job, even though none of them had ever done it:
‘up and down’
did not mean like a lever
like a door handle
like a joystick
like a casino slot machine
I’ll leave it there but suffice to say it all ends in tears. And we laughed our socks off (well, the women did).
There was one about her favourite job before being a proper poet – working in the developing department at Boots and deciding which photo to put on top of the bundle to be shown to the customer for identification. It involves another willy.
‘Polite’ is about not being desperately comfortable about oral sex and there was a good bit of shuffling on seats amidst the awkward laughter. You’d be forgiven for concluding that the entire collection is about sex but you’d be wrong. McNish’s great skill is her observation and her turn of phrase, a mingling of heart and head which marks her out as extraordinarily talented in my book.
‘Beautiful’ was written for a friend who was saving up for a facelift to look like Victoria Beckham and ends:
As my friends sit once again chatting about how beautiful Victoria Beckham is
I wonder if they’ve even stepped outside and looked at a flower
Or wiped the hatred from their own faces and looked in the mirror
At their own beautiful reflections
Now let’s see that on YouTube – (one of her early poems called ‘Smile’ was once featured in a Dove beauty campaign)
One of the sharpest pieces, ‘Aspiration’, was written after watching TV’s Grand Designs for the last time and I swear caused as much bottom-shuffling in the audience as any of the rude poems. And when she finally reaches her current self and tries to explain to her toddler daughter why David Cameron (allegedly) stuck his willy in a (dead) pig’s mouth, she is on top form.
I almost daren’t say this, and she won’t thank me for it, but Hollie McNish is like Pam Ayres with a scalpel. Warm, acutely observant and touching. But absolutely on the money with her honesty. I think she’s brilliant and Plum is a terrific addition to her published work. If you know someone who doesn’t like poetry buy them the book and best of all, take them to see her, sharpish. Even if it's only on YouTube.
Hollie was supported at the Manchester literature festival event by the irrepressible Jackie Hagan, who was on form for a short set which included her trademark discussion of her missing leg (what she calls “stump puppetry”) and guzzling booze from her glittery prosthesis. In between she punched out some startling, original and acid poems about class, poverty and the state of society. Hagan is a unique talent who has the makings of a hugely provocative big-stage performer. I hope she concentrates more on the “political” material and less on her missing limb. She doesn’t need that schtick any more. She's a genius in the making.