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Hollie McNish talks slam poetry, climbing trees and nerves before a show


Hollie McNish’s poetry is not shy and always touches chords. Her delivery as an accomplished spoken word artist brings her words even more alive – she has an especially nice ‘wh’ pronunciation. She has just published a collection of poetry, released two poetry albums, performed internationally and been commissioned by Tate and Channel 4. She’ll soon be at the Roundhouse with a raft of poets battling it out together.



Run-Riot: You’re up against Emma Jones at the Bang Said The Gun  event at The Last Word Festival – can you describe the experience of wrestling words with a female versus a male opponent?

Hollie McNish: I don't think there's any difference, it just depends what type of poet they are. I've never done this before and bit scared in general to be honest, don't know what I've got myself into! But Emma is lush so I'm sure it'll be fine!



Run-Riot: Given that you sometimes speak French in your pieces, how important is language in spoken word? What else must go into the mixing bowl for you?

Hollie McNish: Anything you want really. Mix it up! I don't think there should be a type of spoken word, or things that are more important than other things. People write about all different things in all different ways. That's what makes it exciting. Language is obviously important because it's the only part of spoken word, I mean, all there is, is language. I write in French sometimes, not a lot, mainly about love. Not sure why, my partner isn't French or anything!



Run-Riot: You won at the 2009 UK Slam Poetry – congrats - what do you think these events bring for artists?

Hollie McNish: Cheers! For me, they opened my eyes to the size of the spoken word community, the fact that there were poets from so many different countries. It also showed me there was more to Slam competitions and spoken word in general than the US 'model'. Which is obviously great but personally, I love the spoken word from Germany, Sweden, better. It was a bit calmer and more diverse. But that's not to say there are not a lot of epic poets in the US, which there obviously are. I just thought some of the other poetry as really subtle, and quite dark humour.



Run-Riot: Your WOW Festival piece just made me all emotional – and you’re not shy of being political, which do you think has been your most controversial poem to date?

Hollie McNish: I guess in terms of online feedback it would be Mathematics. That has garnered me the most threats and hate mail, so probably have to be that one. Every time I say anything positive about immigration I'm leapt on by people who think I'm being negative about the white working class in Britain. But it's not, the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they've been some of the closest social groups in history. But that's how the argument is pushed by politics. Working class vs immigrants. But it's shite.



Run-Riot: If you could go for a stroll in the woods talking life and poetry with those that have influenced you – who would you chose to accompany you?

Hollie McNish: Boy, I don't think that sound very fun to be honest!!! If I'm in the woods at all, which I am a lot, for sure the best person to come with me is my daughter. Play chase, climb tress and have a picnic. I don't think I've ever wandered through a wood talking about life and poetry! 



Run-Riot: Page to Performance is your poetry facilitation work – tell us about your most standout experience as an educator.

Hollie McNish: When I was performing a poem in front of a class of 50 year 8 kids and at a sad part the kids started screaming. I was 8 months pregnant and realised my daughters foot was pushing my skin out like an alien film!



Run-Riot: Your first solo show is coming up – how does it feel when you see your audience and do you think it will be any different this time a round?

Hollie McNish: I feel sick with nerves and very grateful at the same time! It's not a show in the way that people take a show to Edinburgh. It's not a story / play or anything like that, it's just a longer set of poetry really! I'm completely naff at drama / theatre so I've never really got a show in that respect together!



Bang Said the Gun is at The Roundhouse as part of The Last Word Festival on 29 Nov

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