Hollie McNish_credit Helmi Okbara

POETRY | Call the Midwife – Hollie McNish at Howard Assembly Room

Women of the World Take Over… Hollie McNish (Photo: Helmi Okbara)

At HOLLIE McNISH’s recent show, ANNIKA JONES was unsurprised to see an almost entirely female audience, among them several pregnant women, and a baby in a hand-knitted jumper.

Hollie McNish opens the performance at Howard Assembly Room hesitantly, saying that the last time she was in Leeds she found herself surrounded by a group of disgruntled midwives after leaving the stage, demanding she perform that poem for their waiting camera phones.

The audience laughs knowingly, not just because of McNish’s exceptional comic storytelling abilities, but because most of them will have had the same introduction to her work as I did, several years ago.

Her performance of Embarrassed perfectly echoed the anxieties of many breastfeeding mothers, as well as issuing an epic take down of the selling and promotion of formula milk in the third world. Amassing millions of views, it brought McNish into the mainstream and slam poetry to an unlikely, dedicated audience of millennial mums. Tonight, they’re out in force.

Her semi-obligatory opening performance out of the way, the stage is handed to Michael Pedersen.

More spring loaded than wiry, Pedersen earnestly promises a “smutty” performance as he barely manages to stand still.

Shifting weight from one foot to the other, bobbing away – he doesn’t come across as nervous, more that his poems are ready to bust out of him and he’s trying to keep them at bay.

From tonguing oysters to highland cows, Pedersen traverses his human experience, smut and stains included.

Willing the audience to see these stories through his eyes, which he’s observed with the wonder of a small child and described with a vocabulary rarely heard on a weeknight in Leeds.

His broad Scottish accent creates a rhythm of its own, floating on, then suddenly cutting through the air. His honesty, passion and energy is impossible to look away from.

McNish’s performances seem remarkably simplistic in comparison, when she returns to the stage: “I’ve never learned how to write a proper poem… I’ve just always written things down in poems” she explains.

Taking us from teenage prose through to parenthood and a return to self, McNish tackles the dark and lighthearted with equal humour and aplomb. An anecdote from a Saturday job at Boots’ photo counter becomes both hysterical and heartbreaking in her hands, the audiences laughter turning to a sharp intake of breath a performer of any kind should be proud to wield the power of.

There has been criticism of McNish’s work, dubbing her “more personality than poet”, and no doubt guilty of the artist’s forbidden accolade of popularity.

Undoubtedly, she is an utterly charming character, sharp witted and full of warmth. If not writing ‘proper poems’ is what has made her accessible to so many, has let her encapsulate the Western female experience so perfectly, has put into words what a sleep deprived new mother hasn’t been able to, then consider me sold on improper poetry.

Hollie McNish : Plum – On tour. Details here

Michael Pedersen: Oyster Available Now

For more Michael Pedersen and Hollie McNish on theCV click here