Spindle chat with spoken word artist, Hollie McNish about the rise of spoken word performers, the crossover relationship between poetry and music and how a future European Poetry Contest might be on the horizon…
Hollie McNish began uploading her videos to YouTube and has since gone on to performing at Reading and Leeds festival, launching Page To Performance, and she performs for The Brighton Festival on May 14th at The Brighton Dome Corn Exchange supporting Kate Tempest with George The Poet. It seems now is the time where spoken word is more prevalent than ever.
So Hollie, how did you first get into poetry and the spoken word?
I think it was mainly my mum reading me bedtime stories when I was a kid. I loved some of the kid’s poets like Allan Ahlberg and Colin West. I loved the rhyme and the humour and I think that stuck with me. I think I possibly still prefer children’s poetry!
There’s so much passion in your work, what inspires you?
Anything, really. I think books a lot of the time. I love reading, mainly fact rather than fiction. If I read a book then I tend to get loads of poems in my head as I try to sort out the ideas I’m reading about. But then also just talking to people, watching a bee in the garden, overhearing kids conversations. Anything at all.
A few of the topics, like breasts and sex and immigration and social issues such as these are quite could-be-considered-taboo topics. Are these subjects that you want to bring attention to, and break down that ‘taboo’ feeling?
No, they’re just things I think about. I’m not trying to do anything with it. I’ve been writing poems about anything all my life, from 7, all through school and still now I write all the time. I just like getting thoughts down on paper.
I don’t think I really realised half of those things were taboo until I put them up in public. They’re the sort of things I talk about with friends all the time.
Saying that, I hate ‘taboos’. The whole idea of taboos. I think they cause a lot of social problems
They make people embarrassed to talk about issues they have like sexual health, rape, abuse. The idea of embarrassment and shame over certain taboo issues, I think has a lot to answer for. Things like the horrific rate of young male suicides for example, I think the taboos around masculinity have a lot to answer for that. Yeah, I hate taboos. I wish there were none.
Is pushing boundaries something you think about when writing your poetry?
No! I really don’t think I talk about things that other people don’t talk about. Perhaps it’s just that other people haven’t talked about them a lot and recorded themselves and uploaded it to YouTube!
You run an organisation called Page To Performance, working to engage people in this art form. Do you find more people have taken to this in correlation to the rise of popularity in spoken word?
Yeah, I’m sure. I think that must have happened. I didn’t know spoken word even existed as a thing until I’d been doing it for about a year! But I definitely see more people saying, “I want to be a spoken word artist” even when they’ve never written a poem before. I always assumed that most people just liked poetry but I think the fact that this more spoken career in poetry is getting more press, that more people seem to wanting to do it. I think!
As the popularity of spoken word rises, do you feel it is a significant platform to raise awareness of social issues? Especially for ‘young people’?
I don’t think so, no. I think it can be just as much as dance, painting, sculpture, music can be. But I don’t think it needs to be. What I mean is, I don’t think it should be seen as that. I think now that media channels are seeing it’s popularity on YouTube and places and they are asking poets more and more to write ‘issue poems’ about news events or social issues.
But I prefer it when someone that’s into poetry just writes a poem – whether it’s about a ball of string, a vase, or yeah, a social issue. But I’d hate it to become only the last.
You’re show at the Brighton Festival/The Great Escape Festival is with Kate Tempest and George The Poet, both of which also create quite inspirational and strongly topical work. How do you feel about spoken word in a contemporary music setting?
Erm. I don’t know! I think you can put a poet anywhere. Except possibly the middle of a Tory party conference! I think it’s lovely to hear poetry read out loud, whether that’s in a bar, a theatre, a music event or at your kid’s bedtime.
I think Kate in particular loves music and poetry evenly, she’s equally a poet and a rapper. I wouldn’t put myself in the same bracket. I work better with poetry as it is. And I like hearing poetry better on it’s own I think. I guess it really depends how it’s done.
One thing I definitely think is that people should be more adventurous in booking poets. I was on the Reading Festival Alternative Stage last year. That was a cool start for me. And I’m doing a support set for Nick Mulvey later this year. I think that sort of thing is really exciting.
Do you think the crossover between poetry and spoken word and music is an easy one to establish?
I don’t understand the different between poetry and spoken word really. But I think music and poetry has always crossed over. I used to print the lyrics of all my favourite songs. Music lyrics are poetry, all of them, any lyric is a poem to me. I think the world is a bloody big piece of rock and there is plenty space for everything!
What do you feel spoken word and poetry brings to communities in a creative sense?
The thing I like about it is the same thing I like about any type of storytelling, is that it lets you into another world, someone else’s thoughts, life, feelings. I like poetry in particular because mostly it’s honest. I prefer hearing poetry that’s about someone’s actual thoughts.
I think it’s a bloody good way to break down the sort of stereotypes of people’s lives and minds that the media seems set on backing up each day.
Where do you feel spoken word and poetry can evolve to in the coming years? Do you think it will get stronger as a creative medium? Encouraging young people to get involved with it too?
I really don’t know. I think it’s hard to say. Maybe it’ll be used in car adverts. Maybe we’ll start the first ‘Eurovision Poetry Contest’. Maybe it’ll help another young person get enough feelings out on paper that it’ll save their life. Who knows.
Who knows indeed.