Plum by Hollie McNish
It was thanks to Joe Nutt and his inclusion of one of McNish’s poems in his book (reviewed here) on how to learn to love poetry that I discovered her poetry on the page. I had heard of her, but had mentally – wrongly – grouped her as just a performance poet, not that I’d watched her perform then either. I vaguely remembered that she had been targeted, along with Rupi Kaur and Kate Tempest, in an essay by another poet in an establishment publication, as ‘amateur’. An article in the Guardian here tells the full story and Rebecca Watts’s essay and review of Plum is here, and they make for absolutely fascinating reading.
So, I was in the library and decided to borrow some poetry books – and Plum was the first I spotted. It’s a collection about growing up in mind and body, from childhood memories to trying to be an adult. It’s split into two parts, the first much larger one is called ‘mind’ and the second small set of eight poems is, of course, ‘body’.
It does have a certain conceit though – for McNish includes some of her younger self’s poems from the first, written when she was eight, moving gradually into her teens and twenties, finishing with Rules for Turning Thirty, written when she was 29. Some of the poems are thus adult responses to the childhood ones – but they weren’t the most successful ones for me.
I laughed a lot reading these poems, and Training Day at Boots the Chemist, remembering her weekend job made me guffaw – the second half captures her terror when her teacher comes to the till with a box of condoms perfectly. It may lack any conventional form, but it’s funny. In fact, most of her poems have a well-developed sense of irony, and many a deep throwaway final line like Orgasm (left).
Not all of her earlier poems were that juvenile either, Language Learning, written aged 24 had a marvellous blend of French and English, but never quite Franglais; the verse that got me compared the French words te deshabiller, te sucer, baiser, to their English hard-sounding equivalents, strip, suck and fuck.
Some though, are full of observations and are more thoughtful, such as Watching Miserable-Looking Couples in the Supermarket, which is more than just a list, it’s a litany rather, of why people stay together, miserably.
There was one poem that particularly resonated, given the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London and elsewhere; David Attenborough would be proud. Hiccups (right) not only has a great message IN CAPITALS but also lots of internal rhymes and lovely alliterative f-words. See, I’ve learned!
I hugely enjoyed this collection. Maybe the poems by her younger self were overdone, but, included as a way to respond as an adult, and now that she is a mum herself to respond to her child and the poems that that child may write, they have a place.
My response, as a 59 year old to the controversy I mentioned at the top of this post is that the author of that essay should get a life! This book of poems made me feel alive, it entertained, I certainly reminisced over my own equivalent experiences, I laughed a lot, I read them out loud to myself – I READ A BOOK OF POETRY FROM COVER TO COVER AND I WANT TO READ MORE by everyone. Thank you to Hollie McNish for making this jaded reader feel this way.
Presented on the page, McNish’s poems have one persona, but they do demand to be read out loud, and she is utterly brilliant at it. Here are links to two readings by Hollie – neither from this particular collection, but both rather brilliant – I hope you enjoy them.
- Hidden Woods which is wonderful and celebrates Forest School and being in the woods.
- Famous for What? This was the poem included in The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt.
Source: Library. Hollie McNish, Plum (Picador Poetry, 2017), paperback, 144 pages.