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Review: Hollie McNish's 'Lobster'

Megan Foulk reflects on the value of spoken word and reviews McNish's latest poetry reading.

By Megan Foulk, Second Year, English Literature

After twisting the arm of my housemate with the suggestion that a poetry reading is 'really just like stand-up, I promise', my unnecessary embarrassment at attending a live poetry event was put to rights from the very beginning of Hollie McNish's Lobster. Appearing on stage at Komedia Bath for the seventh night of her almost entirely sold-out tour, McNish opened by conversing with all of the 'dragged along' members of the audience, teasing, 'were you told tonight would be like stand-up comedy? Did the person who brought you here tell you I'm 'not a real poet?'', and responding in an aside, 'well, can you tell them thanks very much, that's a real insult', sending the room into hysterics. Appropriately reprimanded for my shame at being a literature snob, McNish plunged into a hugely entertaining evening of storytelling.

McNish is The Sunday Times bestselling author of Slug (and other things I've been told to hate), which is a raw, humorous and thought-provoking poetry collection released in 2021. Lobster (and other things I'm learning to love), was released on the 14th of March 2024, just three days before Bath's stop on the tour, and it proved equally as lovable. McNish opened with a poem titled 'poem written one night when I was really missing some of my friends', a heartfelt exploration of how life and time moves friendships to new locations. McNish set an intimate tone for the evening, before handing over to friend and support poet, Deanna Rodger.

Winner of the UK Poetry Slam at just eighteen years old, Rodger has since been commissioned by numerous brands and organisations, with one of her publications his fingers have left being written in response to British playwright, screenwriter and actor Kevin Elyot's archive in Bristol University's Theatre Collection. Sensitively navigating topics such as race, motherhood and class, Rodger delivered an emotive performance, demonstrating spoken word's distinct ability to convey opinion. Manipulating the dynamics of her voice more intentionally than McNish, albeit not without an apology to the sound engineers after a false promise that she never shouts during soundcheck, her skills as a performer left the audience transfixed.

Returning to stage after a brief interval, McNish began a deep dive on her most personal ponderings, from the more trivial, why you should 'buy the boy flowers', to the arguably unhinged recollection of post-partem nightmares 'recurrent nightmare after returning to work: boiling'. With a voice that The Guardian dubbed ‘warm and instantly likeably,’ they also likened the experience of reading her poetry to ‘having a conversation with a friend’, with the accessibility of McNish’s work being a huge part of its appeal. Skipping from the crowd pleasing ‘fellatio fellatio fellatio’, then moving onto the more politically charged ‘the queen was not your grandma’, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the madness of mourning the death of a monarch, McNish’s talent for moving between the serious and the laughable left no room for boredom.

McNish closed the evening with perhaps her most fun reading of the night, ‘the problem with ageing’, a comedic imagining of how McNish would alter legislation (were she minister of culture). Age pairings were proposed for specific indulgences, in the hope of curating a lifetime of ‘looking forward to firsts’. Suggesting ‘beer and wine with food at sixteen, vodka jelly, nineteen; gin at twenty-one; twister lollies, twenty-three; hot air balloon rides, thirty, candy floss at thirty-eight, cocktails only when you’re forty-one, baileys, sixty-seven’, the audience was reminded of the joys of free will.

An eye-opening and entertaining evening of poetry, I left with a refreshed faith in the purpose of my arts degree and the lesson that poetry doesn’t have to be like stand-up, overly political, or expertly curated. It can be messy, chaotic, honest, and it can still resonate. As Lyra Bristol Poetry Festival approaches this month, (12th – 21st of April), perhaps consider giving a live poetry event a go.

Featured Images are courtesy of Megan Foulk

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