Poetry belongs to everyone, not just the educated.

I recently read a review, from PN review – supposedly one of the outstanding literary magazines of our time. But I just can’t justify calling it a review, because it wasn’t. It was what seemed like an attack on a handful of poets, one of them being Hollie McNish.

Hollie McNish is one of my favourite poets. I fell in love with her work when I read Nobody Told Me, her poetic memoir of parenthood. It was the first poetry I read that I had really resonated with. Hollie has been recognised and rewarded throughout her career, so it’s not just me that thinks she’s brilliant.

Yet this woman had left such an undeserving review that it felt almost like a personal attack. A review is supposed to be a critical appraisal, looking for the strengths and the weaknesses in someone’s work. Giving a well rounded view for the reader to decide if this artist, poet, film or whatever – is for them.

This however, read only as a vicious rant. A woman clearly scathing, spitting her venom in the most one-sided write up I had ever read. It was well written by the way, this woman is clearly very educated, very intelligent, or both. Which is why it’s such a shame, when she clearly has a passion for writing but she’s using her talent to spread such negativity.

On the other hand, I guess it’s her opinion, although a little constructive critique would not go a miss, we can’t judge people for forming their own opinions, and this is hers. However we can respond and defend ourselves, and that’s exactly what Hollie McNish has done, as she responded to the review in her own wonderful way here.

I’m glad she responded because poetry doesn’t just belong to the educated, poetry belongs to you and me, it belongs to teenagers in their bedrooms scribbling down their emotions, it belongs to prisoners in cells fighting for justice, it belongs to rappers and mcs, soldiers on the frontline, it belongs to young people, old people, rich people, poor people – it belongs to everyone.

Hollie has been writing poetry since she was a young girl – and if she wasn’t published by picador, or if her YouTube videos didn’t go viral, then she would still be writing poetry. Because that’s what a passion is, and that’s what I and others feel when I read or listen to her poetry.

I met Holly after a show in Cardiff, and she was lovely!
Me and Hollie McNish after her show in Cardiff. She stayed to speak to everyone and was so kind and down to earth.

It may not ever impress the likes of the PN Review readers but why undermine and criticise an art form just because you don’t resonate with it? I wandered lonely as a cloud is great and all but I struggled to study poets such as Wordsworth and Keats in university. I bloody hated it to be honest, but I didn’t refuse to learn about them just because their poetry wasn’t my cup of tea.

Instead as I learnt about them and the times and places they wrote in I came to appreciate their work. Maybe this woman should look around at the times and places we live in, and perhaps she could learn to appreciate Hollies work, even if she never likes it.

The likes of Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest, and Benjamin Zephaniah – just to name a few of my favourites, have breathed life back into poetry and made it accessible for everyone, not just the educated. The spreading of poetry on social media is only a good thing. Times are changing, and if you’re not open minded and exploratory when it comes to creativity then I’m afraid you’re missing out. Failing that, perhaps try a little kindness, it wouldn’t go a miss.

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