The Premise: a new collection of poems from British poet Hollie McNish, this time focused on the development from childhood to adulthood.
Thoughts: since reading McNish’s previous work, Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood, I’ve been a big fan. I found that collection really relatable in the way McNish wrote so honestly about pregnancy and being mother to a young daughter, and I found plenty to relate to in Plum too, with McNish taking her reader through from early childhood to adulthood, encompassing topics like school, religion, friendship and part-time jobs. McNish creates an intimate atmosphere, and it has the overall effect of making Plum feel like a conversation of whispered secrets with a best friend.
Alternating between topics like the demonising of teenagers in ‘No Ball Games,’ and the empty promises in ‘Politicians,’ along with amusing anecdotes about working on the photo counter in Boots and plotting about which print to place at the top of the wallet to embarrass both employee and customer when the pictures were collected. I like McNish’s ability to mix humour with serious commentary; in Plum, she mixes her current work with poems written when she was a child and teenager, and, ironically, it’s often these earlier poems which concern themselves with wider issues. McNish’s brief introductions to these poems are self-effacing and witty, mocking her own teenage earnestness at times. It all adds up to a collection that confronts important questions without ever seeming pretentious or trying to lecture its reader.
now we must plan to meet
don’t dance in pjs/
share the bed
you do not comb my hair
for hours, to practise plaits
– drink tea instead
There were a few poems in Plum that I found particularly relatable; ‘Call On Me’ laments the fact that adults are so often geographically distanced from their friends at the time when they are most needed, juxtaposing the lost innocence of childhood friendships with the more formal nature of meeting up as grown-ups. I found myself nodding along in a way that I would have found very embarrassing if I was reading it in public. In the poem ‘And We Talk,’ McNish exposes the hypocrisy of modern parenting, when mums “talk about the seed packs for handy fat-free snacking” but “when children beg the park from us we tell them we are chatting; McNish has a real gift for spotting these seemingly insignificant moments of modern life and pointing them out in a strongly worded but un-preachy way.
In Conclusion: if you’re an admirer of McNish’s previous work, or of Kate Tempest, I highly recommend Plum; it follows on from Nobody Told Me while widening the scope of subject matter, and it’s hugely successful in doing this. I love McNish’s poetic style; the language is deceptively simple, allowing it to really pack a punch, and the poet’s voice is strong throughout. Hollie McNish is a really exciting talent.