Speak Up caught up with Hollie after her workshop and performance at Leeds University Union!
Speak Up at Leeds University Union is a range of events for spoken word, poetry and knowledge sharing that aims to bring students and the literary community closer together.
How did the events go for you today?
I think they enjoyed it, hopefully! They seemed to be smiling. You can never tell from people’s faces but there were a lot more people than I thought would be there to hear poems about motherhood at a students’ union to be honest. Quite shocking, it was really nice! I kept thinking “do they want me to carry on talking about this because this is all that the book is about!”
So you’re doing a tour at the moment?
Yeah, no other universities, this is the only one. It’s mainly book festivals, literature festivals, theatres, bars, midwifery conferences!
That’s kind of the beauty of it, that you can take it to so many different types of places?
They’re really different venues, it’s really good. I’m doing a gig with UNICEF in Denmark soon, a big conference on infant feeding and health, and then in theatres and pizza restaurants! It’s nice, just talking about motherhood. It’s pretty cool that people want to hear it.
Are there any specific reasons why you decided to do the book about motherhood?
I just got asked to publish it basically. It’s three and a half year’s worth of my diary so it wasn’t really meant to be published ever in my life. All of my other diaries are written in poems – I’ve got loads of teenage diaries which you definitely will never find! They definitely shouldn’t be published ever. This was just an agent asked if I had any material and I sent this and sent my diaries and they seemed to prefer it with the poems and the diary entries together, so we’ll see how other people find it. It was meant to be private but now it’s totally not.
Do find that invasive at all or is it refreshing to get a truly honest piece of work out there?
It’s definitely honest, it’s things that I didn’t think I’d say to anyone else. People say it’s quite personal but I did have things in it like my kid’s favourite song or things she made me for Mother’s Day and things like that. I took all of that stuff out because it’s not really relevant to other people and that stuff I think is personal, I want that to be just for me. Stuff that people say is really personal to talk about I think is probably okay to talk about as it’s not unique to me I guess. Anything that was literally unique to me and my family I haven’t said about but if have if it’s things that I think are more generally interesting.
How long have you had an interest in poetry and how long have you been performing for?
I’ve been writing poems since I was about seven I reckon, and writing them a lot since I was about twelve, so the teenage diaries are all in poems. I only started reading them to other people when I was about twenty six, so after I finished uni and did a masters. I didn’t have any intention of reading them out, I didn’t study creative writing or anything. I did German and Economics and I thought I would probably go into things to do with Economics but it looks like I haven’t!
Was there any part of you that always knew you’d end up doing this?
No, no way! Or I definitely would not have studied so much Maths. I do love Maths but if I knew I could have a job as a poet I probably wouldn’t. But no, I didn’t at all. I didn’t want to, it’s not that I thought I wouldn’t be able to which I probably would’ve thought anyway, but I just didn’t want to. I didn’t have any thought that that would be my career. It’s just something that I love doing, just like anything. I played rounders a lot but I didn’t think I’d be a professional rounders player! It’s just a hobby really.
Were you into a lot of other poetry or did it come from somewhere else?
I was when I was little, so I think it was probably from kids poems and nursery rhymes, like Roger McGough and Colin West. I had a little poetry book when I was little that my mum used to read me and then song lyrics really. I wasn’t really into poetry at school, that was the only module that I never took. I did French and German Literature as well at uni, and the only module that I didn’t choose was poetry. I didn’t actually like reading poetry that much but I loved printing off song lyrics and reading them. Now that I’m working full time as a poet I’m finally learning how to write poetry well so I’ve started reading a lot more now.
Do you write with a set formula or does it just come out how it sounds?
It just comes out how it sounds. I think I’ve been writing it for so long that I write in the same style all of the time. I don’t like poems that don’t rhyme and I’ve never written with a set structure. I don’t even know what they’re called! I’ve never tried because I’ve just never known it. I think just from writing so long it comes out naturally, that way of rhyming. I would love to learn about it, I think it’s an amazing art when people focus on a form or focus on a sonnet or whatever it is. I just haven’t done it myself.
I saw you’ve been reading extracts from your books on Youtube, do you think that is opening up poetry to a whole new range of people?
Yeah, I think so. I love Youtube. It’s one of the things I studied actually, the horizontal social structures so the fact that the media doesn’t have to be controlled by a few high up people. It’s a much more democratic thing I think so I love it. Especially with poetry, I didn’t grow up going to arts nights at all. Not even at uni, I wasn’t a member of any poetry society or spoken word group. I don’t even know if one existed when I was at uni. So yeah, I meet loads of people who are too intimidated to go to a poetry night or just don’t want to or can’t afford it or lots of younger people who can’t get lifts into town. There’s so many more people that can’t get to a night than can. Me as well, having a kid. Youtube is so good because you don’t have to be wealthy, you don’t have to be confident to go to a poetry night online. I don’t know why they are so intimidating but certain places I think they are. It took me about two years to go into the poetry café in London because I didn’t think I’d be welcome and I thought everyone else would know each other and I was on my own. Even art centres now, I’ve paid for my own gig before because I was too embarrassed to tell them that I was performing! I was headlining the gig and paid £6 to get in or something. That’s just because we went in and the place asked me for my money. I don’t know why! If it intimidates me and I’m literally going there to perform and have been doing it for years, who knows what it’s like walking into a theatre for someone that’s never walked into a theatre or anything before. So yeah I love it, Youtube is great.
I watched on Youtube as well the video from Abbey Road, how was that?
Amazing! It was so nerve wracking. I saw one of our primary school friends in the audience and didn’t realise she was coming then I started crying just a little bit. So stupidly dramatic, then I forgot my words and had to go and pick up the piece of paper to remember them! I can’t memorise anything anymore. It was amazing being in Abbey Road, it was wicked. Having my daughter there as well, she was there for the gig upstairs in Abbey Road Studios, just think of all the people that have been there.
Do you reckon that the growing place for poetry online could mean that live performances could come to an end one day?
I think live is always better. It’s like a band isn’t it. Music videos are really big but it’s still better if you can afford to see the band live. I don’t think the rise of stuff online actually does anything bad for other stuff. It makes you want to go to festivals or a live event. It doesn’t make you not want to see them, I don’t think. People have said don’t put your poems up online or no one will buy the book, but it’s more likely that they’ll see a poem and would still like to read it on the page as well. I think they kind of work together but if it’s only going to be on Youtube I think that’s pretty sad. As much as I love it, it’s really nice having someone in person reading you a story. The community aspect of poetry nights I really love too. The fact that people are sitting together and laughing together. Like at football matches, it’s nice being in a crowd or a group.
What are your future plans?
I don’t really mind what happens, it’s a bit overwhelming anyway. I never really expected to be doing poetry so every time I get to do a gig or go to a new place it’s just pretty exciting to be honest. It’s really nice. I’ll see how the book does. I don’t care if it sells or not, it’s really nice to be able to do the gigs and hopefully carry on doing it, hopefully do something helpful.
Find out more about Hollie and what she’s up to through the link below:holliepoetry.com Upcoming Events