Hollie McNish, winner of the Ted Hughes Award for Poetry, has thrilled and entranced audiences the length and breadth of the UK with her compelling and powerful performances. Plum, her debut for Picador Poetry, is a wise, sometimes rude and piercingly candid account of her memories from childhood to attempted adulthood. This is a book about growing up, about flesh, fruit, friendships, work and play – and the urgent need to find a voice for the poems that will somehow do the whole glorious riot of it justice.
Throughout Plum, McNish allows her recent poems to be interrupted by earlier writing from her younger selves – voices that speak out from the past with disarming and often very funny results. Plum is a celebration, a salute to a life in which we are always growing, stumbling, falling, changing and discovering new selves to add to our own messy store. It will leave the reader in no doubt as to why McNish is considered one of the most important poets of the new generation.
I’m going to be honest, this is the first collection of Hollie’s that I’ve ever read. In fact, before I picked up Plum in Waterstones, I had never even heard the name ‘Hollie McNish’ and you know what?
Five pages in, I realised just what I’d been missing. My only regret about reading Plum is that I didn’t read it sooner. Cheesy perhaps, but true. I also find it strange the way you discover a new favourite writer sometimes. What made me grab a copy of Plum from the bookshelf was the fact that the front cover is purple and purple is my favourite colour. Maybe this is a technique I should employ often when I’m shopping for books. Anyway, I’m rambling as per usual so let’s crack on with the review, shall we?
Okay, slightly more rambling.
I’ve just finished my dissertation (which was about how creative writing can ease anxiety within language learners) and two articles that I read while researching really struck a chord with me. One article talked about how one of the many misconceptions about poetry is that it’s meant to be difficult. Poems are meant to be layered in hidden meanings and are meant to scare us common folk off with the fear of “not getting it”. Another article talked about how poetry studied within schools very often puts students off for life, the poems they’re forced to study having been written by centuries-dead, white, middle-aged men. The priorities of these poets are not in line with the priorities of people trying to get through everyday life in the 21st century and, as a result, these 21st century people see poetry as something that’s irrelevant to their lives. What can poetry, of all things, possibly do for them?
Well, in Plum, Hollie shows her readers that they’re not alone in their frustrations and fears. In a society where we can sometimes feel like the loneliest person on Earth despite being connected to one another 24/7 through social media, that’s just what we need sometimes, right? Plum is filled with poems, written at various stages throughout Hollie’s life, that say the things that we all want to say but don’t. We take to social media and post pictures of our pets and nights out. We show an idealised version of our lives but we remain silent about the things that anger and worry us. To the new mums whose hearts are heavy with worry at the prospect of protecting and raising their babies in this terrifying world. To the people who blink back the burn of fresh tears as they type “I’m fine” into their phones. To the mums pressured into feeding their babies under ‘modesty’ bibs because society can’t help but sexualise a nipple. To the people pressured and forced into sex or sexual acts. To people angered by the deifying of ‘celebrities’. To the people angered by the chemical abuse that the Earth has been subjected to.
You are not alone. That is what poetry can do for 21st century people. It shows people that they are not alone.
Plum is a bridge of words between Hollie and her readers. Plum is refreshing in its raw honesty. Plum is relevant. Plum is a must read.
Hollie is on YouTube and I found this amazing spoken piece that you should go listen to. Embarrassed explores the hypocrisy of a society which endorses “billboards covered in tits” and newsagents filled with pornographic magazines, but shames breastfeeding mothers into cold, reeking public toilet stalls.
Buy your copy of Plum here or in your local bookstore.