Portfolio of Hope

If you’ve never heard of Hollie McNish then, where have you been? Seriously. A force to be reckoned with in the literary world (and, let’s be honest, in the world in general), British Poet Hollie has built a following (& gained many an award, including the prestigious ‘Ted Hughes Award’), off the back of her fearless style of writing. Shifting our perception of what poetry is, of who poets are, through her exploration of complex themes such as motherhood, menstruation, and masturbation (not sponsored by the letter ‘m’, alternative letter starting themes also available), McNish is a shining example of just how powerful art can be, and her seventh poetry collection, ‘Slug‘ (released in 2021 and available to buy from all major book retailers), is testament to this…

Hollie Mcnish

A taboo busting, laughter inducing, life affirming masterpiece, if my experience is anything to go by, you’ll get to the end of ‘Slug’, breahing a sigh of relief upon realising ‘so it WASN’T just me!’

When I reflect back to being in school, being told in our English classes that we were moving onto the poetry sylabbus, it would inevitably be met with a collective sigh, boredom taking hold at the very mention of poetry. I think that this is a view that is held by lots of people, too. The likes of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, as great as their work is, it just wasn’t something that a class of 30 unruly teenagers from Doncaster could relate to, really. If we had been given a copy of Slug to read though, we would, after getting over our initial shock at being told that not all poets are cis white middle-class men from twentieth century Britain (the mind boggles) be transfixed.

‘Writing is distraction and focus in one. A hot-water bottle pushed directly onto cramps. It also seems a bit sick sometimes: selfish, self-centred, narcissistic. Like, That’s a good line about your Grandma’s funeral, yeah nice, Hollie, keep that bit in the poem.

In the end though, I love it. The writing. The editing. The reading back. The reading of other people’s poems sculpted for various other reasons and in various different ways.

So most of the poems and memories and stories I write are primarily for myself: to ease pain; to paint; to heal; to reorganise anger; to giggle; to think more clearly; to convince myself of feelings that maybe weren’t quite true; to have fun; to play with language; to imagine alternative realities; to wallow; to question; to reconsider; tom remember; to give some sort of shape to things that overwhelm me. Like death. Like birth.’

Hollie Mcnish

Whether it’s something as small as manipulating the salad bar at Pizza Hut (pay for the smallest bowl, stack in such a way that you get the same amount as you would if you paid for the largest bowl), or as big as the loss of a grandparent, there is something in Hollie’s writing that we will all be able to relate to, a rarity (both in terms of the poetry and the poet)… This is one of the things that I love the most about Hollie’s poetry; just how relatable it really is…

Hollie McNish everyone, what a legend.

Some of my favourite, very relatable poems from ‘Slug…’

salad bowl widsom

for Granny

you taught me not to worry; how to save celery soup with salt and cream; how to smile and nod and move on when the battles are not worth the screams; i have mastered that technique, imagine you beside me as i turn away from shouty c***s; you taught me how to spy unseen behind a half-closed curtain when the neighbours’ routines change; that life is short; that nothing good is certain; that nothing bad is certain; that days are long when you’re alone; you taught me how to fill up the smallest bowl at the salad bar at pizza hut in such a way that while paying for the small bowl you actually get the same amount as the top-priced large container: raise the base up first with coleslaw, potato salad next, cold pasta at the end, overlap cucumber slices all around the edge hence creating extra wall space, fill this engineering masterpiece from the sides up to a central peak, two times higher than the bowl itself;
walk slowly to the table, winking to your friends
the whole world in your hands.’

getting out of the cereal side

‘…’ cos mr kellogg was a racist.
a bigot. a eugenics fan.
thought interracial couples
were a curse upon the land.’

she looks at me. rolls her eyes.
holds my hand. we walk away.
she has not asked for
coco pops again.

eating whole carrots

as i sit on the train, eating a whole carrot just munching a
whole carrot,
i get funny looks

if i buy a packet of carrots, chopped into small finger-
sized oblongs of carrots for five times the price, just
munching these carrots, these pre-chopped carrots
i don’t

my daughter asked if i can please not put a carrot, like a whole
carrot like a whole carrot in her lunchbox, mum

i said what if i chop up the carrot, like the carrots you get in
those packets of pre-chopped carrots that cost five times the price

she said yeah
that would be fine

we are the only species who puts make-up on corpses
we are born
without one worry
how we look
on the outside

and when we die
we’ll look shite
but we’ll be dead
so we won’t mind

the only time
we waste with worry
about our body’s
shape and size

is this tiny-in-between-time
known as life

fairy tale
despite what adverts make-believe
sofas are no comfier to slump on if you’re ‘beautiful’

sand sieved between your toes
falls no more finely through thinner feet

the scent of perfume lingers
as fraglantly on shorter necks

sunsets burn as brutally
on any gazing irises

the birds would still have landed
on snow white’s hands, and sung for her
no matter how she looked


it’s not the blood that bothers me most:
i’ve never been too bothered by blood

never one to hold up my hand in dissection cladd;
ask to sit out when the lamb’s hearts were placed
in bags next to tabletop scalpels
and chris stuck his finger right up the aorta
and we all laughed
and joanna threw up

it’s not the blood that bothers me most;

it’s not holding the tampon string up
while i wee that bothers me either;
not blood dripping into the shower;
bath mats freckling red
as i step from the water; not pants
more pants dashed in the dustbin
when wings do not stick;
not worrying at work about leaking
in meetings running over and over;
not my professor insisting
i sit on his sofa in each supervision
pausing to check if i’m listening
when all i am thinking is
this sofa is expensive and white
this sofa is expensive and white;
it’s not the cramping of thighs
as if my muscles are punching
a path through my skin
the way my mother’s did too;
it’s not continuing to smile
as my insides implode
as if my body does not own a womb

which bothers me most


it’s sneaking the products;
contraband carefully cradled up sleeve
the way my grandmother taught me
to smuggle past grandad, dad,
my brother, every boyfriend i’ve had,
every colleague at work,
every train passenger
i brush past on the train,
every person i pass
on my way to the loo

as if carrying a bomb
sure to go off
if anyone sees

These are just four poems from ‘Slug’, Hollie Mcnish’s 482 page poetry collection.

Buy the book to read all of her amazing poems for yourself: https://bit.ly/35OPGE

&, do check out Hollie’s work via the links below:
Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/holliepoetry/
Youtube- https://www.youtube.com/user/holliemcnish/videos
TikTok- https://www.tiktok.com/@holliemcnish

More of Hollie’s Books:
Lobster (to preorder)- https://www.theportobellobookshop.com/9780349726649-s
Antigone- https://bit.ly/3QIhQF6
Nobody Told Me- http://fal.cn/Kbvi
CherryPie- http://bit.ly/1x1PuvU
Plum- http://bit.ly/2jT6KPP

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