So, why is a twenty year-old reading a poetry collection centered around parenting, you ask? Not for the reason you’re thinking. Although I get those same funny looks when I buy baby name books for my characters in public.
Anyway, the reason I choose to delve into parenthood poetry was entirely through curiosity. At university, I’m taking a performance poetry module and I was first shown a video of Hollie McNish performing ‘Embarrassed’ in a seminar. If you haven’t heard of it, I suggest you go and watch it here straight away, it makes my feminist heart sing, or if you can’t, the poem is mainly about the social stigmas surrounding breastfeeding, but my summary doesn’t do justice to McNish’s beautiful imagery and emotional expressions.
After finishing ‘Nobody Told Me’, I feel a hell of a lot more enlightened on the realities of pregnancy and parenting, (as much as I’m able to without popping a child out myself) and it has raised my respect and gratitude for my mother, my gran, and all the other great women who have brought children into the world. The only the reason I wouldn’t give ‘Nobody Told Me’ the extra star is because I can’t relate to her experiences, it’s not at all because of the quality of writing. Barely having time to yourself, to even go for a wee? Being unable to eat Mr Whippy ice cream?! Yeah I don’t think parenting will ever be my cup of tea personally but throughout the collection, strong tones of love and awe surround McNish’s poems about her daughter or as she calls her, “Little One”. One of my favourites in the collection is ‘Colours’:
‘When people ask me if the little girl with me who holds my hand and calls me Mum and walks along the beach with me is mine / I wonder if they’ve ever seen sunshine split through raindrops or stopped to watch how paint morphs into new shades every time you stroke the brush across a page.’
McNish has a very beautiful way with poetry, and can make the most prosaic things seem wonderful and unique, which is perfectly captured in ‘Abseil’:
‘As you abseil down my chest like a miniature rock climber hands grip tightly, push off from my shoulder-blade cliffs you career from left to right, mind focused, eyes open no waterproofs or harness, I see panic setting in until quick fingers grope the spot and you fling your head across the sky to your chosen side and land lips clamped and drink’
Something I also really loved about this collection is that it’s not just a poetry collection. It’s a conglomeration of diary entries, scraps of poetry, polished poems, and thoughts in a very confusing, very exciting, and very wonderful time. Reading the thoughts and memories behind some of the poems added a greater level of feeling in my opinion and added another layer to this lasagna of feelings (what am I saying? I have no clue. Just read ‘Nobody Told Me’ and it will do this to you too). In a way, it oddly felt like reading a novel, and I started to empathise with people like Dee and Little One and it was definitely a unique reading experience. I think one of the reasons why I felt empathy for the people mentioned in the collection, is because McNish’s poems are written colloquially, which is conventional for spoken word, and it feels like she’s talking to you to you directly, engaging your attention and emotions all the more.
Something I am still in disbelief over is, a month after I had discovered this brilliant spoken word poet, I was able to attend Raise the Bar in Bristol where she headlined one evening. On the front row, I watched her perform ‘Embarrassed’ and goosebumps ridged along my arms. McNish is not a take the stage and in-your-face performer, instead she owns a quiet confidence and pretty much tunes the strings of your emotions. As beautiful as the poetry is from ‘Nobody Told Me’, nothing beats a live performance, especially as the poems are written to be spoken aloud. I was also lucky enough to chat with her after the event, and she seemed just as down-to-earth and lovely as her narrative voice in ‘Nobody Told Me’. She was even kind enough to sign my copy of her collection, and wished me luck with my own poems (I’m still very much dazed about this, if i do well in my module it’s all those Hollie McNish vibes!).
So, if my gushing hasn’t convinced you yet, I highly recommend ‘Nobody Told Me’ to pregnant and un-pregnant people alike! I’m definitely going to read her other collections and I hope that you enjoy her poetry as much as I do.