‘Sitting on Lids’
In her reputable poem ‘Embarrassed’, which has received high praise amongst its 4 million YouTube viewers, the British poet, author and spoken word artist, Hollie McNish, who performs under ‘Hollie Poetry’, addresses the relentless struggles of new mothers nursing their children in public.
In her piece McNish makes great use of the refrain ‘covered in tits’ to emphasize the sexualisation of the country, which readily indulges in promiscuous images in magazines and advertising. In stark juxtaposition, the maternal breast is reduced to a hidden and unspoken taboo. McNish repeatedly refers to this marginalization in which the feeding mother can be found shunned by society ‘sitting on lids’ in private toilet cubicles or anywhere she is graced without prying judgement.
Within ‘Embarrassed’ incidents of discrimination are recounted in which breastfeeding mothers have been asked to leave a pub or to get off a bus. The extremely modernist style, which McNish adopts, illustrates almost ironically how far society still has to advance to become the society of liberation which most believe we already exist in. Whilst same-sex marriage and suchlike has been welcomed, nudity in the form of natural provision is still something that causes a great amount of social unrest.
Moreover, the poet also expresses a further difficulty faced by new mothers, not only through her public position, but also within her own private domain. Within ‘Breasts’ she describes the challenges of providing for a child and also a lover. Symbolically the breasts provide a duality; they are at once ‘skin to skin baby’ and in the next moment ‘skin to skin man.’ This splitting of a woman is something that McNish expresses so openly through her poetic form, despite it being somewhat unchartered territory. Whilst it is true that there are many poems of maternity and love they are very rarely simultaneously combined. McNish truly vocalizes the raw and honest emotions of a mother and perhaps more importantly a woman.
Resisting the categorisation as a feminist until she was 22 – feeling there was no necessity and no real place for political challenge within her work – McNish, now 32, retains in a statement for the Guardian, ‘I don’t set out to change people’s views. I just want to get my own across.’
Nevertheless, these personal views have been welcomed both as extremely useful, in the case of self-proclaimed oblivious men, and empowering. Notably, ‘Embarrassed’ has been shared by many midwives to encourage natural feeding amongst pregnant women, as well as to prepare them for the stigma attached.
Becoming a mother herself at 26, when she felt she was not ready, McNish has arguably and very selflessly paved the way for others. From the discovery of her pregnancy up until when her daughter was three, she wrote poetry and diary entries, which are now published in her first collection entitled ‘Nobody Told Me’.
There’s no doubt McNish’s work has developed considerably since she began as an enraged seven-year-old, vocalizing her annoyance at littering and her mother’s inconsiderate height, which meant she could not hear her daughter, but it undeniably still possesses her personal and unrefined passion.
Although she has been educated at Cambridge, invited to work with Unicef against infant feeding and mortality, and won the UK slam poetry contest in 2009, as well as continuing to place third globally, McNish still shares the struggles and ordinariness of a womanhood. As she declares in her piece ‘Cupcakes and Scones’, which addresses societal constraints to relinquish youth and girlishness, ‘I like being a woman.’
A talented and very humble poet – only beginning her career after much persuasion – McNish is part of the Point Blank Poets, an exciting and emerging group who creatively express contemporary issues through fresh and lively literature. (The group also includes: Sabrina Mahfouz, Chimene Suleyman, Bridget Minamore, Deanna Rodger, Dean Atta.) With already such an impressive body of work, it is extremely exciting to see what this group of poets will create and how McNish and her generation will shape not only sexualisation, liberation and realism but also the artistic movement.
To see dates and locations of her British tour visit: https://holliepoetry.com/live-shows/
Words: Steph Ryan
Tags: #HolliePoetry #HollieMcNish #SlamPoetry #Embarassed