Edition enjoys an evening of ‘not quite poetry, not quite rap’ at J2, 5 May 2015.
Adopted local girl Hollie McNish has been quietly making a name for herself as an urban slam poet, even if she describes herself as ‘rural’. Though there was nothing quiet about last night’s gig at Cambridge Junction’s J2.
With special guests, Inja (not your stereotypical rapper) and Charlotte Higgins (the driving force behind Speakeasy at the ADC), the evening was somewhere between a poetry reading, performance, spoken word and a gig. However you choose to define it, the description has to be brilliant.
Kicking off the evening was Inja, who may be more familiar from the Junction’s Warning nights. Identifying himself as being too nice to be a standard rapper, he set about charming the audience. An energetic rendition of a commissioned piece to commemorate Cambridge’s involvement in the abolition of the slave trade proved particularly winning. And as if that intellectual effort wasn’t enough to seduce a Cambridge audience, then his rapped recipe for his favourite comfort food surely was. Clever words, artfully delivered with a friendly, open stage presence, Inja was the perfect start to the evening.
A change of tone came as the softly-spoken Charlotte Higgins took to the stage. Beginning with dark takes on fairytales, with more than a nod to feminist retellings, she went on to regale an enthusiastic audience with Changing My Mind, which explains how she came to appreciate her compatriot Seamus Heaney.
The literary references betray both what brings her to Cambridge (university) and her roots; she’s Northern Irish. She brought the house down with Autocomplete – who would have thought that Google could inspire such a hilarious poem? Listen to it here:
The second half of the evening was given over to Hollie McNish, aka Hollie Poetry. She may indeed be dubbed an urban slam poet, but she’s not so easily categorised in my opinion. Tackling everything from racism to misogyny, from grandmas to sex, her poetry takes in many aspects of modern Britain, and it’s all delivered in an easy, self-effacing and friendly manner.
And she’s not afraid of criticism as her opening five readings demonstrated: the top five most hated poems from her website. She’d picked them based on the comments posted on her website, and they included Touch, which reflects on the British aversion to touching one another; Mathematics written in response to one man’s blaming of foreigners; and Hate, which had one website visitor complaining about Hollie’s grammar (I’m a sub editor and for reference, I’m with Hollie on this one).
Introducing all her works, she gives you a frame of reference, which is often personal, but political, such as discussing homosexual sex with her Scottish grandma or dealing with the class divide while at university. Perhaps her best-known personal and political work focuses on her own pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding her daughter. And this is what she finished with, eliciting the most riotous applause I’ve ever heard for breastfeeding, and giving a shout out to the Cambridge breastfeeding support group in the audience.
Whatever subject she’s tackling, Hollie is a natural on stage, with an ease about her that many comedians would envy. A generous performer too, she was full of praise for Inja and Charlotte Higgins, and has given a young local composer, Matt White (currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music), a track on her new album, Versus, which is on sale now.
I can safely say it was the best ‘not poetry, not rap’ night I’ve ever been to.