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Poetry Competitions UK
15 Jun 2011

Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish was the UK SLAM! Champion 2008/09 and went on to place 3rd in the World Cup of SLAM! in Paris, as well as winning the Glastonbury Festival Slam and appearing as a feature performer at Farrago's regular London shows as well as numerous other events and venues around the UK.

How old were you when you started writing poetry?

About 6 I think, well that's the age on the first poem I have in a folder I've always put them in. It was about how my dad hated cats and my mum was thin like a pin!

When and where was your first poem published?

This year, in Popshot magazine. Most of my poetry I think is better spoken, so I haven't tried to publish any written stuff. I'm just finishing an album at the moment. I really like hearing poetry spoken, and I listen to a lot more than I read. Both would be good if possible!

Where do you find your inspiration?

Mainly from reading the rubbish in the newspapers, from reading magazines like New Internationalist, and from things I studied - I just spent two years studying human rights, immigration, agriculture and trade - that gave me a lot of info. I tend to write when I'm angry, or if I want to get across something I've read in a study across to a wider audience - intellectual, high language drives me mad 'cos it's so elitist most of the time, especially when it's about things which are really important for everyone to know about. Apart from that, just from looking around ... and from music and friends (for the nicer poems!).

Which of your poems is your favourite and why?

Seriously, I have no idea, I've got about 300 and only ever read out about 35 max. I like 'Hate' a lot I guess, especially since the BNP have been getting more votes, 'cos I've been told it makes people reconsider their thoughts.

What has been your greatest (poetry) success to date?

Reading 'Hate' during anti-racism week to loads of different school classes and getting great feedback from all the young people. That was a great success for me.

Do you have a special place you write?

Anywhere, as long as I have a pad and a pen! No special place at all ... sometimes I have to pull over in my car in case I forget lines!

Who is your favourite poet and why?

Too many to say. I read a lot of music lyrics actually, and poetry too - I kind of think they're the same thing. It was more music than poetry that influenced my writing style I think - I love grime music and mellow or UK hip hop- MC Solaar, Arianna Puello,Tor, Ms Dynamite garage style, Dirtty Goodz - I love fast, word-full music! And I love hearing poetry in other languages. In terms of poet poets, perhaps Benjamin Zephaniah and Deanna Rodgers, Jasmine Cooray, Bunmi Hazzan and I love Keith Jarrett - they're all people I've seen since I started performing and they're great!

You're a relative newcomer to the poetry slamming scene yourself - do you have any advice for anyone thinking of taking part in a poetry slam for the first time?

Do it! I waited for ages, it took me over 10 years to even consider reading and then a whole year of going on my own to open mic nights before I got up and read! I might also suggest NOT starting with a slam but going to an open mic like the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. That's where I started and I think it's nicer to read somewhere for the first time that isn't part of a competition, which a slam is. I don't think I could've started if I knew someone would hold up a number out of 10 after I read.

Has living between London, Cambridge, Reading and Glasgow had an affect on your poetry?

To be honest, I don't think so! I think the things I write about are happening everywhere and anywhere really.

Has motherhood changed your poetry style?

Not really, although I'm writing more at 5am between feeds now, and more spaced out most of the time. I guess though I have written a few nicer poems about my baby, whereas most of my normal poetry's a bit angrier! But I am still writing that too.

Can you tell us more about Shape East Spoken Word?

Shape East is where I work - it's an environmental urban planning charity! I write for them as part of the youth workshops we do with young people, finding out what they want from their neighbourhoods - as most decisions get made in planning without asking any young people - which is why so many youth clubs and facilities like that are been discarded in new housing estates. I write most poetry their about young people's views and also use it in workshops as a way of them voicing their opinions to local Councillors, architects, planners and politicians. A few of the poems are up on audio on www.shape-east.org.uk.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline you'd like to tell us about?

Yeah! I'm really nearly finished my first album, called Touch, with about 20 poem tracks and 5 with music. I'm really excited about it, have a friend finishing off the artwork for the booklet and then it'll be ready for sale. Also, got a collection getting done for anyone wanting to see the experience from being pregnant to having a baby ... that's going to be for donation though, not profit ... I can't say too much about that but very excited. I've also been commission by Radio 4 to write a poem for their Glastonbury Diaries programme, recorded at Glastonbury, which I cannot wait to go and do. And I sent a poem off last night as part of a project running in Argentina, focusing on the politics of place and poverty. So yeah, lots, well as much as possible while spending all the lovely time with a newborn - but she does sleep and eat sometimes - so I do it all then!

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