The Science of Enjoying Life | Hollie McNish Goes Live

Last Thursday I attended my first live poetry gig since the world went mad. Live, in my kitchen, with slippers on and a beer. For the past couple of weeks, Hollie McNish has been live-streaming her poetry readings. The nights she would have played elsewhere, on tour, she is playing for hundreds of readers from her home. The readings have been going down a treat.

Losing the Arts

Usually at this time of year we are gearing up for the literature and arts festivals (Cúirt comes to mind), that fill our spring and summer calendars. It is heart-breaking to see one after another postponed or cancelled. I know that missing readings by favourite authors is not literally a matter of life or death. There are more important things going on right now. But I am reminded of a quote from John Maeda, an American designer, that I had written on the inside of my English folder during my Leaving Cert year:

“Amidst all the attention given to the sciences as to how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are considered “useless,” will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.”

The arts are the science of enjoying life.

Our worlds are shrinking and we are losing so many of the things that make us who we are. From handshakes to football matches, from routines to museums and theatres, we are losing things. At the other end of this loss there are the artists who have poured time, energy and love into crafting works that, for now at least, cannot take to the stages for which they were intended. The frustration is real. The anger is real. The loss is real.

Enter Hollie McNish

Life is settling into a new kind of normal. There are moments, however, when I remember the situation we are in, and I am smacked again by disbelief. I am terrified. I forget how good I have it.

Enter Hollie McNish. There has never been a poet that I needed more (and I say this as someone who devoured Sylvia Plath as an angst-ridden teen). Last Thursday, after struggling for a while as a newbie to Instagram – I know, where have I been? – I finally gave in and downloaded the app. As if by magic, there was McNish, sitting on her wicker chair, reading aloud.

McNish began the stream reading poems by Bristol based poet Vanessa Kisuule, who would have been her support act on the night. She is well worth checking out, both on the page and on YouTube.

For the next hour McNish read from Cherry Pie, Plum and Nobody Told Me. She read a selection of delightful new works too. Some of the new poems were topical – sweet observations on the kindness of others. Other poems were refreshing odes to fingering and cunnilingus. McNish was her natural self – irreverent and humorous – and didn’t seem put off by the lack of physical audience.

Messages flew up on screen from the over 900 people who tuned in to listen to her, and for an hour my world opened up beyond the confines of my kitchen. I was at a gig and there were other people out there experiencing the same thing at the same time. I laughed and I cried, and I honestly felt a joy I have not felt since this whole thing began.  And I didn’t have to queue for the loo, I’ll take that win. The arts are the science of enjoying life.

Next Gig

Hollie McNish is back performing live in your living room, or really any room, this Thursday (2nd April) from 9-10pm, this time on Facebook Live. Dress code on the poster reads “Very fancy or pyjamas or nude.’ Get into the science of enjoying life and check it out.  


Check out Alvy Carragher‘s interview with Hollie McNish here.

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