Holly McComish: Performance Poet (And Yes, She Knows It)
She's been described by the Metro as a 'lockdown sensation with poem about talking boobs' after she appeared as part of Rupi Kaur's open mic night on Instagram. But I'm lucky enough to know her as Holly up at box office way back when in 2019 where we worked together at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. At the time, I wasn't aware of her wonderful performance poetry, so since she's been going viral with her work, I thought it was time to talk.
A: When, how and why did you start writing?
H: This started, actually, back in 2018 when I was at Brunel University and there was a module called, like 'Performance as Poetry', and I was like, 'ooh, that sounds good! I wanna get involved in that' and it was actually taught by Benjamin Zephaniah, so I was quite in awe really that he was coming in to teach ... and I just loved the lessons, like I really, kind of, found something there, um and it's actually there where I wrote my piece 'If Tits Could Talk', so that was quite a while ago that was 2018. But, just, at the time, I don't know, I just didn't really have the confidence I don't think! Still kind of growing into myself, not even just as an artist, but probably as a woman as well, I was only like, 20.
Graduating from Brunel University in 2018, Holly went on to tour across Spain with Forum Theatre Company before studying at East 15 where she graduated last year (sorry, hun) and claims this is the place she felt brave enough to amplify her voice and start sharing her work. Upon sharing her piece, she received a heap of positive feedback and decided to REALLY get people listening...
H: So, like I said, I'd shared this poem at East 15 and kind of got loads of praise for it, but once again, sort of just... you know, lockdown happened and not much was really happening, and then a friend of mine sent me, basically just a link, being like 'oh Rupi Kaur is putting on a live poetry night she's looking for submissions, you should submit some of your stuff!' and I was like, do you know what, what have I actually got to lose? So I submitted and then literally a month later I got an email from her team being like... you're one of the six that she's picked to go on the poetry night. Literally out of thousands of applications.
A: That's given me goosebumps.
H: Seriously! I was out running and I literally just started crying. It was the first time that I actually felt noticed.
Holly was given two days notice to prepare a performance for the Canadian Poet's livestream and also had to prepare herself to perform at 11:30pm (soz neighbours) because of the time difference. Over 4,000 people watched her perform and this success threw her more attention, but this time it was all for the boobs.
H: They (CoppaFeel) slid into my DMs! And I was just like, what's going on, this is literally awesome. Yeah I was in quite a few little newspaper articles online, I was in an actual copy of Pick Me Up magazine! So, that was fun, I've got that in a little scrapbook!
Recently, Holly has uploaded another poem onto her social media, and feels as though this has validated her personal 'style' of work and I couldn't agree more. Holly radiates her own personality through her performances and she is always so honest and comforting to watch. I've known Holly for nearly two years now, but after watching her for 1 minute 36 seconds, even a stranger would feel like an old friend and that's what I love about her work. Holly agrees with me when I say that poetry is not particularly palatable to the masses, there's a perception that it's 'boring' or hard to understand (unless it's the limerick that Daniel Cleaver recites to Bridget Jones on the boat, that's pure gold).
H: I just want to create some poetry that is, number 1, relatable to people, I want people to hear it and think 'yes, I hear her, I get that, I feel that' and also, just to be a bit more conversational, a bit more easy, like, I think it's such a powerful art form and also, just being able to make poetry, like, comical as well!
During our chat, Holly and I discover that we're more alike than we knew. Holly reveals to me that she isn't happy with how females are branded in comedy , she feels it's either 'no sense of humour and really uptight' or 'funny, but a bit thick', but we need more female comedic writing and Holly is paving the way with her work. I'm all about female comedy (as you probably all know) and it's super important for us to be having discussions about being unhappy with the opportunities available. Anyway, we go on to have a big rant about the comedy gap, but this bit feels like it would be better in a podcast so I won't go into it. But trust me, we're mad.
A: What motivates/inspires you as an artist?
H: As an actor and a writer, I have this desire, this is so cheesy but it's the best way to describe it, I have this desire to either show through my work what it means to be human, to be a real person, to play truthful characters ... As a performance poet, I'd say that I have, quite like, a natural desire for vivid storytelling, massively I feel that come out, definitely when I'm performing poetry.
H: I'm really passionate about pieces that will challenge you, like spin the stereotypical ideas and views. I think those are just so important. Pieces that... they don't drop the ball, they're concise, they're not scared to be a little bit political, I love pieces like that and I think I'll always strive to be involved in or to write in that sort of vein.
It can be difficult to make political pieces in the right way, especially over the past year, but Holly has a way of sneaking poignant lines into her pieces which give us all some food for thought. In her latest piece 'Growing Pains' she talks incredibly conversationally and then drops the line 'it's the pressure to achieve your dreams before you're someone's mother'. Holly tells me she's since had a lot of messages and comments about this line in particular and how it's resonated with so many.
A: Do you have a structure or a plan that you follow or do you just go with it?
H: ... Erm...I dunno... hmmm...
A: If it helps, I don't have anything.
H: To be honest with you, an idea for me often starts with writing a line down in my notes on my phone, I'll just think about something and I'll be like ooh I'll write that down, I'm such a believer in- don't just rely on your memory, you have to write that down because your memory will fail you. I think for the newest poem I wrote down 'packet of crisps in a vending machine' and then I'll just sit with it for a little bit. Yeah, to be honest with you I'm a bit blasé with it at the minute, like this current poem, I literally wrote it on the bus! On the way back from work! I always carry a notepad and pen in my bag and so actually writing it down, it just seems to flow. I don't like to force it, like 'ok I'll sit down and write now', if it's gonna come, it's gonna come. But I'll always write in couplets-
H: Just like, little random couplets and then I'll try and piece it together and switch it around. For me, I think maybe just because of the style of how I perform it as well, I don't like the process of it to be too formal.
Holly goes on to say how happy she is to share her works in progress. Personally, I'm not brave enough to show my work until I feel it's done, so I commend her for not being precious about her ideas! Holly says she will always ask friends for their opinions of her writing or even her general topic, just to ensure her pieces feel conversational and relatable. However, this girl's poetry is not to be read in a GCSE English textbook.
H: I just think, with my poetry, that it doesn't live on the page. It completely doesn't ... so sometimes I'll write something down and I'll be like 'does that sound right?' or 'can I use that slang?' ... and then as I'm making my toast I'll just say it out loud and then I can be like 'do I like that, or do I need to take a syllable off that sentence?' They're meant to be said out loud.
A: Yeah, 'cos when you perform them and when you watch them, it doesn't feel like- I know it has, I know a lot of hard work has gone into it- but ti doesn't feel like you've written something, memorised it, planned it, it feels like you are just a woman standing in front of a camera, saying what she's thinking. And that's the beauty of it.
This is the curse of simultaneously being an actor, however, we both find that we can't write without thinking about that extra layer of emotion on the top. But that's why Holly's poems are so powerful to watch, because she has written them to be performed herself. And no one can do you quite like you can.
SPEAKING OF PERFORMING YOUR OWN WORK...
A: So, where can we keep up with your work and what you're doing?
H: I'd say my Instagram (@holly_mccomish) is where I get the most interactions. Is this the opportunity for a little plug?
H: A little plug. Basically, I'm going to be performing some of my work at The Silver Lining's Mix 'n' Match event-
A: I'm doing that! I'm doing that one!
H: Are you?!
H: See ya there, sis!
Hilarious. Incredible synchronisation from us there. SO, you can catch the wonderful Holly McComish (and me, hehe) doing her thing on Saturday 20th February at 7pm via YouTube which will then be followed by a Zoom Q&A hosted by the Silver Lining team, so you can ask her even more questions then if this interview hasn't quite scratched your back.
H: Go us, please!
A: I know!
You can find Holly on Instagram @holly_mccomish and I've attached a cheeky link below to her work with the Pink Ribbon Foundation. For updates regarding the Mix 'n' Match event, head over to Instagram: @the_silver_liningco or on their website www.thesilverlining.uk/ (or you can go over to my Instagram, because I'll probably post about it too.)
Thanks to Holly for chatting with me and thanks to you for reading! Catch you on the flip side.