Word Cloud: ALOUD

Word Cloud Resized


Dana Gioia, the subject of last week’s post, often writes about the change poetry is undergoing from small runs of books at boutique publishers for a sparse group of readers to a populist movement of rappers and poetry slammers speaking their poems for audiences.

So I thought this week was a good time to explore what’s happening in that brave new world, which is really a throwback to poetry’s origins, millennia before the printing press, when the words were stored in the poet’s head and then chanted aloud. Spoken word poetry in today’s electronic forum is heard by much larger audiences because of microphones, recording devices and the Internet.

Many thanks to my friend Ramara for showing me a You Tube video of Holly Poetry, her poetry slam moniker. Some of her poems are under her other name, Holly McNish. She’s originally from Glasgow, which is a very difficult accent to follow for non-Brits. I know because I once spent three days there, and everyone was so kind and patient, but I couldn’t understand a word! However, she did go to university in England, so even if you’re an American like me you should be able to understand her, and the poems are printed out too.



He says
“those god damn pakistanis and their goddamn corner shops
Built a shop on every corner took our British workers jobs
He says those godamn Chinese and their goddamn china shops
I tell him theyre from Vietnam but he doesn’t give a toss
I ask him what was there before that damn Japan mans shop
He stares at me and dreams a scene of British workers jobs
Of full time full employment before the godamn boats all came
Where everybody went to work full time every day
A British Business stood their first he claims before the Irish came
Now British people lost their jobs and bloody turkish are there to blame
I ask him how he knows that fact he says because it’s true
I ask him how he knows the fact he says he read it in the news
Everytime a Somalian comes here they take a job from us
The mathematics one for one, from us to them it just adds up
He bites his cake and sips is brew and says again he knows the spot
The godamn Carribeans came and now good folk here don’t have jobs
I ask him what was there before the goddamn Persian curtain shop
I show him architectures plans of empty godamn plots of land
I show him the historic maps
A bit of sand, a barren land
There was no goddamn shop before those pakistanis came and planned
I’m sick of crappy mathematicspunjab-market in London
Cos I love a bit of sums
I spent three years into economics
And I geek out over calculus
And when I meet these paper claims
That one of every new that came
Takes away ones daily wage
I desperately want to scream
“Your maths is stuck in primary”
Cos one who comes here also spends
And one who comes here also lends
And some who comes here also tend
To set up work which employs them
And all your balance sheets and trends
Work with numbers not with men
And all your goddamn heated talk
Ignores the trade the Polish brought
Ignores the men they gave work to
Not plumbing jobs but further too
Ignores the ones they buy stock from
Accountants, builders, on and on
And I know it’s nice to have someone
To blame our lack of jobs upon
But immigrations not as plain
Despite the sums inside your brain
As one for one, as him or you
As if he goes, they’ll employ you
Cos sometimes one that comes makes two
And sometimes one can add three more
And sometimes two times two is much much more
Than four
And most times immigrants bring more
Than minuses.


The body-shaming of women is prevalent in Western culture, as the ideal of beauty shifts ever younger and thinner, until the ‘beauties’ we see on TV and in the magazines look more like preadolescent girls than adults. This poem celebrates all the scars and wrinkles and sags that tell our stories.


As she stands naked at the mirror
Hands clapping in applause to it
Naked, bold and proud
Her mouth open wide and round like
My body is amazing
She is one year’s old and loving it
Full belly sticking out, thighs like mini tyre towers
And when she looks at her reflection she always shouts out loud like
This body is so greatmirror-and girl
Gazing down now
I try to do the same
Ignore the plastic advert spreads
That pass me on the way
I say ‘my body is amazing’
Despite what some might say
I say my body is amazing
Despite the claims you make.
The nip and tuck and cuts and sucks that fill my walk to work each day
Enhancement ads and happiness will only come with curves this way and
if I lay in front of you today
Clothes dropped to the floor
You’d prescribe me what I could have less and what I should want more of
A tick box what could be chopped off with red pen ready hand aside your eyes deciding what to slice from lips and cheeks to bum and thighs
The lines below my eyes you say
I ought to peel or pull away
My breasts will start to sag one day
My breastfed baby there to blame
She came into the world you say
That’s great
but now behold your face
your saggy stomach, baggy eyes
Stretch mark stripes you look and sigh:
My eyes, tighten
My legs, inject
My thighs, cut back
My head, perfect
My stomach, flatten
My breasts, enhance,
Don’t smile, too much
Oh God, don’t laugh.
As you mark me like a canvas page in circled bouts of red
I feel the need to tell you you might praise this skin instead
Cos as you chat about corrections, your plucking cuts and lasers
Briefcase stuffed with time relapses, scalpel led erasers
I take up your red pen to my cheeks and mark two stripes on either side
A naked painted warrior could be a sorer site for eyes cos
I am ready for your battles now
My body’s felt the worst
No scalpel cut intense as that last damn push of birth
And I have learnt with awed amazement what my body brave can do
And now I’m marked like tribal tattoos with the tales my flesh went through
But those stripes that line my saggy stomach mark me like gold
And the folds by my eyes tell a tale just as bold
My laughter lines are deeper now because I smile twice as much
so if you palm read these first ‘wrinkles’ my life would light up.
Your official position is that smoothness is queen
but without any lines there’s no reading between them
A storybook opening
My life’s just begun and
Once upon never plays
If you cling to line one
As you try to cover the living I’ve done
As a human, a woman, and now as a mum
But your red pen can’t rub out the night’s I’ve not slept, the parts that I’ve bled or the laughter I’ve wept, the baby I held in the stomach that stretched, the breasts that got heavy so baby was fed, the parties I’ve had out, the sleep I’ve missed out on, the dinners I’ve stuffed down my throat like a python,
As you pile on the pressure to cover my life
I wonder what on earth is so wrong with your sight.
If my mind and my memory can tell you my tales
Then why can my body not tell them as well?
As our babies lie naked,
Applauding their skin
I can’t wait for their lives and their lines to begin.


I had three fabulous great-aunts who all lived into their nineties. This poem so reminds me of them. ‘The Aunts’ were smart, funny and had great stories to tell. The middle sister ran for and got voted into public office in Wyoming, the first state to give women the vote, a decade before the 19th amendment was ratified. When the oldest one lost her husband, she died her hair, said she was 10 years younger, and went to work. Before she retired, she was running the place. The youngest sister was the most domestic, and what a cook she was, with a great soft lap for cuddling. I tell their stories all the time so they are not forgotten.

Bungalows and Biscuit Tins

My grandmas are officially old now
94 and 86
They tell me war was not romantic, not a bit, don’t believe the posters of the handsome soldiers kissing loved who waited for them to come back
Most endings were not like that
Most loved ones died or loves burnt out
My grandmas go to more funerals than parties now
It hurts
Neither of them like this
And they sit
Observing everything
Their Christmas’s as kids had sock stockings and a single bouncy ball and now I watch them watching as great grandchildren open hoards of presents throwing half onto the floor
Sometimes we disagree with what’s right and wrong for us to do
My pregnancy without a wedding ring was something that we struggled through
Talked it through and agreed to disagree
And though a felt a little shamed
When she offered me her ring to wear I knew she was just protecting me
From how people would’ve been to her if she had done the same
The other took me to the side and held my waist tight like a glove
“Loads of my generation got knocked up too” she whispered
“They just kept it covered up
And married bloody quickly”Tea-Biscuits_999906c
I love it when she winks at me
Telling secrets
Drinking tea
I ask about their history
They know of things a lot my grans
They sit and watch it all
Articulate, intelligent
Kind and bossy,
Sly sometimes
As clocks tick time with icing topped
And I watch as people stop to ask them if they want another cup of tea
“Ten thousand and eighty three I’ve had” she jokes to me
They all taste just the bloody same
She says “I’m bored of my friends dying”
And people are so patronizing
Bending over, talking shyly,
Slowly and politely like my grandmas are both kids
Telling me to “leave nan” she’s just nattering for the sake of it
Call their conversations gossip
Like older people are all the same
And ignore everything they thought before their brown hairs turned to silver grey
“If you ever call it purple I will slap your little face” she says
She says
She wishes she could dance again
But I see her dancing all the time
And I love the fact me and my mum’s mum tell dirty jokes my mum won’t like
We watch reruns of CSI
The oldest says she’s ready to die
Her younger siblings are all gone now
Funerals a daily song, now
The tea is sipped
My daughter loves the way they live
Bungalows and secret tins of biscuits
She nicks while my grandma sleeps
My youngest grandma does ‘chairobics’ for the over eighties twice a week
And lives a larger life than most people my age that I meet
I see life-lines run through both their faces,
Both of them my saving graces,
I think our country’s strongly ageist
I wish more grandmas filled the pages of our youth-obsessing TV screens
You teach me what real wisdom means
And though there’s things we argue on
And your mindsets can be militant
And you always say I swear too much
I think you’re fucking brilliant.


Holly McNish studied French and German at King’s College, Cambridge, before earning a master’s degree in Development Economics. She won the U.K. Poetry Slam Contest in 2009, and was third in the global Slam Du Monde contest. She’s been a popular guest on several BBC Radio programs, and her You Tube videos have had almost 4 million views so far. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve heard here, she has a number of other poems on You Tube. I liked all of them, and had a hard time choosing what to show you. She ‘s also published three books of poetry – see details below.

For a lot of the 20th century, it was fashionable at poetry readings for “serious” poets to read their work poorly, in flat, inexpressive voices, claiming it “let the words speak for themselves.” Unfortunately, words spoken in a monotone are far more likely to put the listeners to sleep than inspire them to love poetry.

Watching poets actually perform their work for audiences and have some fun doing it is a wonderful change. The ancient bards recited their words, often accompanied by a musical instrument. They made praise songs for the gods which were part of sacred festivals. Theatre evolved from those festivals, and then Radio, Film and Television sprang from theatrical roots.

Poetry spirals back, picks up what It’s been missing from the past, and and makes old anew for our delight in the present. In Holly’s words, “fucking brilliant.”


Books by Holly McNish

  • Papers © 2012 by Holly McNish, Greenwich Exchange Ltd
  • Cherry Pie © 2015 by Holly McNish, Burning Eye Books
  • Nobody Told Me: The Poetry of Parenthood © 2016 by Holly McNish, Blackfriars 

Spoken Word Album

  • Versus, 2014, as Holly Poetry, recorded at Abbey Road Studios


  • Indian grocery in London – I was surprised I couldn’t find a picture of a Pakistani, Chinese or Turkish store that was identified as in the U.K., but the Punjab is on the Indian-Pakistani border – it’s the closest I could get. I like the contrast of the very British architecture above and the mix of cultures at street level. 
  • Little girl looking in mirror
  • Tea and digestive biscuits

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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2 Responses to Word Cloud: ALOUD

  1. Holly McNish is amazing! Thank you, Nona!

  2. wordcloud9 says:

    You’re welcome Joy – I really enjoyed working on this one!

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