Paperback by Blackfriars, £13.99 (ebook £7.99)
I first encountered Hollie McNish’s poetry when I watched her video performance of Embarrassed on YouTube – a striking, exasperated burst of frustration at Britain’s stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public. Embarrassed is contained in this 448-page book of poems, prose and diary entries recording McNish’s motherhood, from the positive test to her daughter “Little One” heading off to pre-school. It wavers between the confessional – “nobody told me” and “I’m not very good at this” are refrains – and observational; McNish vents frustration at corporations cashing in on new parents and expresses horror at abuse of pregnant women worldwide.
She addresses birth and sex and reassuring relatives and public disapproval and politics and the disparity between aching for sleep, yet staying up to stare at a sleeping child’s face. There is no need to interpret these works – the preceding diary entries explain exactly what McNish was thinking when she wrote them.
Some of the poems are not good, some are funny, some burbling; most are trying to encapsulate feelings simultaneously fleeting and all-encompassing. It’s like listening to a friend who’s had months of bad days.