Review: Hollie McNish & Jackie Hagan, Manchester Literature Festival
What a night! Never before have I sat in a library swigging wine out of the bottle all the while laughing until my ribs actually ached.This Manchester Literature Festival event was by far the most amount of fun I’ve ever had in a library, and I reckon I speak on behalf of the rest of the audience.
The evening began with poems from Liverpudlian poet, playwright and comedian, Jackie Hagan. I was new to Hagan’s poetry but, by the end of her readings, I had fallen head over heels in love with her talent. When she first appeared on stage, it was quickly evident that she was a true comedian. Hagan has a prosthetic leg which she decorates with bright fabric and covers in fairy lights while on stage, and the loss of her leg is a major focus. She makes light of this by referring to the remainder of her leg as looking like “the blonde one out of Birds of a Feather” as, after the amputation, there was a scar. She giggles as she tells us how every time she gets a taxi, nearly every driver points out that she can be a Paralympian, as though it’s that simple.
However, Hagan’s poetry revealed a very different side to the comedian in her. The moment she began to read, everyone sat up and listened. Her carefully crafted poetry made the audience take notice. I was hanging onto every word she said. As she lurched into seriousness, an element of humour remained. Her focus on the bleak reality of everyday life was clear. One poem had a particular impact on me, a poem about poverty. Within it, she alluded to the general consensus that anyone on the dole or surviving on Universal Credit has a huge TV. Hagan went on to explain the reason for this: the alternative world in which the TV is all they have – there is nothing for them in the real world.
But levity returned. Hagan finished on a much lighter note by pouring her wine into her prosthetic leg and toasting the audience; laughter returned to the room.
The laughs didn’t stop there. When Hollie McNish came on stage, she seemed fairly reserved. But her opening gambit, Poem about Thrush (enough said), suggested otherwise. McNish’s poetry is supremely personal, full of her own life experiences and embarrassing anecdotes. One of my favourite poems is from her collection, Plum. It’s Working in the Photo Department at Boots the Chemist. She told the audience that her family wanted to know when she was going to get a “proper job” as a poet, naturally, isn’t considered to be a real profession. She laughed as she explained that working at Boots was the only time she ever came close to this stereotype.
What makes McNish so special is that she writes with complete honesty. Plum is about growing up and the transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s about the body and friendship. Her final poem of the night was a poem called Shoulders, detailing what McNish believes is her greatest asset. There was much laughter when, after finishing her reading, she said to the audience that “if you would like to see my shoulders later, please feel free to ask”.
The evening finished in the same way it began, with wine, as the two poets argued over the last glass. In the end they halved it.
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