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Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood

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Winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2016

There were many things that Hollie McNish didn't know before she was pregnant. How her family and friends would react; that Mr Whippy would be off the menu; how quickly ice can melt on a stomach. These were on top of the many other things she didn't know about babies: how to stand while holding one; how to do a poetry gig with your baby as a member of the audience; how drum'n'bass can make a great lullaby. And that's before you even start on toddlers: how to answer a question like 'is the world a jigsaw?'; dealing with a ten-hour train ride together; and how children can be caregivers too.

But Hollie learned.

And she's still learning, slowly. Nobody Told Me is a collection of poems and stories taken from Hollie's diaries; one person's thoughts on raising a child in modern Britain, of trying to become a parent in modern Britain, of sex, commercialism, feeding, gender and of finding secret places to scream once in a while.

480 pages, Paperback

First published February 4, 2016

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Hollie McNish

17 books158 followers

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5 stars
909 (57%)
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485 (30%)
3 stars
140 (8%)
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32 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 181 reviews
Profile Image for Shelly.
529 reviews44 followers
February 4, 2016
I was really nervous going into to read this.
Nobody Told Me: Poetry & Parenthood, is a chronicle of three years and nine months of poet Hollie McNish life.
From finding out she was pregnant in Kings Cross Station on the way to Glastonbury.
“Three hours staring at three test”
To her daughter first day of pre-school, and everything in between.

I’m not a mum, nor do I have the drive to be. But this book spoke to me in so many ways.
I have learnt so much while being thoroughly and enjoyably entertained.

The book offers an immediate, unfiltered insight into McNish’s life, and into her experience of motherhood.
Written in moments at “4am, on the loo, in hospital, at work, interrupted by cries, screams, laughs…..mostly written on the floor of my Little Ones’s bedroom as she slept.”
McNish describes it as “All the things I couldn’t talk about.”
The poet records her guilt, pain, wonder, exhaustion, frustration, joy, anger and love. There’s no photo-shopping here.
Nobody Told Me offers an insight into the shared, unspoken experiences of many mothers.

Reflecting on and holding a mirror up to, culture, stereotypes and societies pressure put on pregnancy and parenthood.
It touches on the judgement of teenage mothers, we can sexualise teens but low behold they have sex and be pregnant.
The fear of race culture, Hollies partner loves being with there Little One cause he goes from
“Young, Black Male to Sling-Carrying Male, or Dad”.
And the prejudice she encounters for having a mixed race child.
“Did you always go for Dark skin/No I went for him”

And for the part that I found most enjoyable and true.
The shame and prudishness, hidden behind putting a finger on your clit during child birth for pain relief. Hollie confesses to being,
“sat and pretending I was a Buddha and secretly pressed my palm to my clit to distract the nerves from the pain in the rest of my body”
Most would sexualise this, as we do everything else (don’t even get me started on breast feeding, brilliantly covered in the book) but Hollie speaks the truth, it’s a logical pain relief at times.

I have learnt so much from Nobody Told Me, that I would never learn anywhere else, it lives up to it’s title.
For instance, did you know that,
Bounty saleswomen are allowed into the hospital ward straight after birth, when family is not.
“My dad couldn’t visit and friends couldn’t pass by/to see the new mum and dad proud/ and that’s fine, I don’t mind, until two hours past labour/our hospital door was pushed open/and sales representatives from Bounty or something/strolled in with a bag full of potions.”

It’s honest, and on the spot writing as she goes through every cut and curve of pregnancy, birth and parenthood.
This moving, emotive, sometimes silly and profoundly personal account. Shows you Hollie, as she sees culture and the world, a fresh through her Little Ones Eyes.
I could go on and wax lyrical about this all day, but please just read it for yourself, and prepare for the raw energy and passion of Hollie’s very personal poetic voice.

P.S. Page 44, the poem Hollow…broke my heart a little. Thank You for the truth Hollie.
Profile Image for Aida Lopez.
414 reviews67 followers
May 2, 2019
💛Un diario de poemas y reflexiones,yo lo llamaría literatura experimental ,para leer poco a poco.

Un libro tan caótico como generosos sobre la propia experiencia de la autora desde que descubre que está embarazada hasta que su hija cumple tres años.

💛Lleno de sinceridad y de situaciones que nunca se explican cuando se edulcora la maternidad y la crianza,”donde hay momentos de ternura,conexión y descubrimientos profundos junto a otros de agotamiento,miedo y angustia extrema”.

💛Aunque la temática a priori no me interesaba,finalmente me abrumó la realidad de esta mujer,como el entorno se permite juzgar a las madres,el marketing de la maternidad...Si es verdad que su percepción puede o no coincidir con otras madres merece la pena abrir los ojos ante situaciones tan intimas y desconocidas.
Profile Image for María José.
28 reviews6 followers
April 27, 2019
En general es una bonita lectura aunque me ha parecido un poco simple y superficial. Algunos poemas puntuales me han hecho sonreir pero las rimas consonantes de muchos de ellos me han dado un poco de vergüenza ajena. Supongo que el interés de este libro es más documental que literario, ella me cae bien y de acuerdo con todo lo que decía pero su forma de escribir...meh.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,580 followers
Shelved as 'unfinished'
March 9, 2021
I’d encountered a few of McNish’s poems in anthologies and enjoyed the slam style (lots of rhymes and a focus on rhythm; they lend themselves to oral performance more than to reading on the page). After I’d picked this up from one of the Hay-on-Wye shops in September, I also learned that she grew up locally to where I live, which was an added enticement. I kept this as a bedside book for a number of months, reading a few pages every now and then. In this way I slowly made it to page 210 – which is less than halfway through.

And that’s the problem, really: the book is far too long. A short collection of poems and reflections on pregnancy and the early days of motherhood, topping out at no more than 250 pages, would have been perfect. Instead, this just keeps going, all the way until her daughter was three. While I’m sure new parents would appreciate the commentary on other people’s unhelpful advice, the battles to breastfeed and get a good night’s sleep, and the joy of returning to the office after maternity leave, if only to be able to sit and drink a full cup of coffee without interruption, none of this felt particularly new.

A favorite passage:

“No one told me my legs would be covered in blood and that the placenta would feel like cold jelly between my legs. Or that it’s almost as big as the baby. The TV lies. It is all lies. I feel I have been lied to all my life.”
Profile Image for Anna.
167 reviews26 followers
June 5, 2016
It's impossible to convey how much I love this book! Every new parent should read this book. Hollie is able to put into words every emotion I have felt since my daughter was born 15 months ago but which I am not eloquent enough to express myself.

I wonder if my brain chemistry has fundamentally changed since becoming a mum because I would never have dreamed of reading a book combining memoir and poetry before she was born but this was now the perfect book for me and I can't remember enjoying a book this much in years.

Everyone should read this book, especially new and expectant mothers (and their partners if they wish to be able to understand what it's like for the woman!).

Thanks so much to Hollie McNish for writing this book and helping support mothers of all ages to process the overwhelming emotions which come with becoming a parent for the first time.
Profile Image for A Librería.
437 reviews88 followers
September 13, 2018
Seamos madres o no, nos interese la maternidad o no, este libro trata de todas nosotras, de la lucha por llegar hasta aquí y poder decidir sobre nuestro cuerpo. Hacía falta que pudiéramos contar con la visión de McNish. Es necesaria (gracias, La señora Dalloway). Ojalá este libro vea la luz en todas las lenguas del mundo.

Crítica completa en: https://alibreria.com/2018/09/13/nadi...
Profile Image for Cleym.
457 reviews21 followers
April 4, 2021
Un livre extraordinaire sur la maternité.
Sa réalité, ses déboires et ses joies.
Le tout agrémenté de poèmes.
Merci Hollie de nous rappeler que toutes ses émotions sont normales dans ce monde où on attend des mères la perfection.
Merci Hollie.
Profile Image for Meg Scarbie.
283 reviews
March 8, 2022
I am in love so so much. Hollie creates a beautiful prose of poetry mixed with memoir talking about her experiences with being a new parent. Nobody Told Me is a heartbreaking, challenging read, but honest and rewarding all the same. Highly recommend
Profile Image for Booksandbe.
84 reviews52 followers
May 6, 2019
Tuve a Alejandra 42 sem eternas dentro de mi, 42 semanas durante las que pensé que estaba suficientemente informada y preparada para lo que venía después.
Nadie me dijo que 30 horas después estaría sola en una habitación, aterrada, desconcertada, agotada y con el vientre cruzado por una gran cicatriz.
Nadie me dijo que ese miedo y esa confusión, ese agotamiento y a la vez la sensación de amor incondicional, seguirían durante los siguientes 9 años y medio, simplemente han cambiado de forma y se intentan encarar de maneras diferentes.
Nadie me dijo que tendría que explicar una y otra vez porque mi hija juega al hockey(“un deporte de brutos”),porque la llevo a un colegio en el que no se celebra el día del padre ni de la madre, sino de la familia (“es que todos l@s niñ@s tienen padre y madre”),porque cuando le compro una cazadora vaquera me dirigen a la sección de niñas (“ es que esa que tu hija está eligiendo es de Niño “)....
Por todas estas cosas, es tan necesario que haya libros tan maravillosos como este.... tan necesario poder leer en voz de otra persona y sentir que estás un poco menos sola, que eres un poco menos rara, que no eres tan “mala” madre como piensas, que tú también buscas recuperar esa identidad que no sabes donde dejaste....
@holliepoetry , gracias por este soplo de aire que ha hecho que contenga la respiración un poco menos.
Gracias por poner palabras.
Gracias por contar lo que otras no somos capaces.
Silvia, Nestor,Ediciones Dalloway: Gracias por esta magnífica traducción y edición.
*”Mi vida durante la infancia: un escenario contigo entre bambalinas.
Ahora me toca a mi, es mi turno
que difícil es, ya te lo imaginas.”
Author 1 book2 followers
September 13, 2017
Loved the honesty of this book. I was impressed at how dedicated she must have been to write through the harrowing stages of pregnancy and early parenting (when sleep deprivation makes it so hard) and it's so great to have this kind of account and in-the-moment reflection on some of the issues that arise, many of which I could totally relate to. It left me regretting not doing more writing in the early years of having my kids, but oh well my circumstances are different and we do what we can. Some of the poems are just lovely and it's inspiring to see how she writes about the details of her relationship with her child and others. At the same time I like how she articulates opposition to gender stereotyping, racism, anti-breastfeeding attitudes and how she explains through her own experience just how hard so many day-to-day aspects of parenting are. A refreshing read.
Profile Image for Polly Sands.
93 reviews1 follower
May 2, 2018
What a great book. Not just poetry but a bit of a memoir of those years where your life changes forever. As a Mum, midwife, festival goer, breastfeeder (in years gone by), woman, sadly not poet, this is an essential book. I am now recommending it above all accessible baby books, normally I don't recommend them at all so this is high praise. One mate who I told about it who is 5 months pregnant got the audiobook which sounds like it would be even better, as anyone who seen Hollies videos will understand. She is just so real, funny and clever and an advocate for so many, reflecting on her own experiences, the experiences of people around her and reflecting on the relative ease in which we live compared to people struggling around the world. Go get it/ go see her.
Profile Image for Bionicaisdeaf.
44 reviews3 followers
February 10, 2019
12/10. He llorado de emoción, de alivio y de risa. Recomendado para pa/maternidad. Acompaña y reconforta, lo releeré seguro.
Profile Image for Matilda Säde.
27 reviews
November 15, 2021
Kirja numero 54 vuonna 2021 on jatkumoa vanhemmuuden teemaan, niin kuin moni aiempi tänä vuonna lukemani. Tämä kirjoitus ei ole objektiivinen arvio, vaan vahvasta samastumisen kokemuksesta nouseva ylistys Hollie McNishin runo- ja proosateokselle Nobody told me.

McNish sai esikoistyttärensä 26-vuotiaana, minä 27-vuotiaana. Meidän kummankin tyttäret syntyivät maaliskuun puolivälissä ja nämä lähellä toisiaan olevat aikamääreet luovat samastumispohjan, joka tekee lukukokemuksestani vertaistuellisen - kuin juttelisi toisen maaliskuisen äidin kanssa, mutta runomuodossa. Saamme tietää olevamme raskaana kesällä samaan aikaan, vatsa kasvaa samaa tahtia, yliaikaisuus ja tuskallinen odotus on yhteistä ja sen jälkeen ensimmäinen kevät, kesä ja syksy eläen vauvan kanssa. Palaamme jopa samoihin aikoihin töihin äitiysvapaalta ja kärvistelemme toimistolla maidosta täyttyvien rintojen kanssa.

Kokemuksemme raskaudesta ja vanhemmuudesta luonnollisesti eroavat enemmän kuin ovat samanlaisia, mutta huolehdimme paljon samoista asioista. Miksi epävarmoille äideille myydään niin paljon kaikkea turhaa krääsää, miten oman ajan kaipuu ja hetken vain itselleen eläminen on vauva-arjen keskellä niin tärkeää, että itkettää, jos kuukauden ainoa vapaailta menee myttyyn, kun lapsenvahti saapuu myöhässä. Siitä, miten tärkeää on jakaa hoivavastuuta puolison kanssa, että molemmat todella viettävät yksin lapsen kanssa "day-and-night-and-day-again", mitä tarkoittaa kasvattaa lasta tässä pinkiksi ja siniseksi jaetussa maailmassa, joka pohjimmiltaan väittää "Boys told to be more / Girls told to be less". Hän kirjoittaa osuvasti imettämiseen liittyvistä yksityisistä tunteista ja sen yhteiskunnallisista vaikutuksista: koko imetyskonseptin uskomattomuudesta, väsyneistä yösyötöistä, maitotahroista kaikkialla sekä naisvihasta, joka paljastuu tilanteissa, joissa julki-imetystä paheksutaan ja hallitus yrittää saada äidit imettämään pidempään vaatelahjakorttien avulla.

McNishin runoissa rytmi on kaikki kaikessa ja niitä on nautinto lukea ääneen. Teos oli helposti lähestyttävä runojen suorasanaisen tyylin ja perinteisen loppusointuriimittelyn ansiosta. Kronologisesti etenevä teos toimi myös ilahduttavana "spoilerina" siitä, mitä saattaa olla edessä kävelemään ja kyselemään oppivan taaperon äitinä. Toisaalta se palauttaa mieleen ne raskauden ja synnytyksen jälkeiset hetket, jotka ovat jo autuaasti unohtuneet univelkaisten aivojen syvyyksiin, vaikka pyhästi luulin muistavani kaiken ikuisesti.
4 reviews
September 27, 2016
Everybody should read this, from teenage boys to grandmas. Nobody Told Me is a testament to the experience of motherhood, from the small and seemingly-mundane details that surprised Hollie to the pointed articulation of how motherhood and existence in a world not designed for you is fundamentally political. Her introspection, as well as her observations about her family and the people she interacted with, cut away the veneer of lovey-dovey-ness that surrounds motherhood in particular, and becomes more beautiful for expressing how shit she sometimes found it. Everybody can relate, and I certainly learned a lot, because it's a book about ignorance and love and fear and family and so much more love.

This book made me laugh a lot and cry a lot. I'm not a mother, and have no desire to be one anytime soon, but that doesn't matter. In fact, the friend I've recommended it to most recently is a close friend also aged 20. I think he'll love it.

And now I need to go and hug my mum.
114 reviews1 follower
June 5, 2017
Thanks Hollie for reminding me how hard it is looking after a baby and young child. You write so eloquently and from the heart, it really brought back to me the ups and downs of parenthood. As a mother whose children are all now adults I had forgotten such a lot of the difficulties; now having been reminded I feel better prepared to help and support my daughter as she becomes a parent. I would recommend this book to anyone as it is a lovely read with raw emotion and some beautiful poems. However I think in particular it would be very helpful for parents and grandparents embarking on the great adventure of bringing a child into the world~ Hollie expresses beautifully so many experiences that we will all share and help us to know we are not alone!
Profile Image for Susan Howson.
681 reviews28 followers
February 6, 2020
I almost dreaded picking this up every night because it was too real and raw and perfect. Motherhood is profoundly unfair and awful and erodes your confidence and also is the opposite of all those things. It’s bizarre and sometimes it scares me to think about it all. I tend to just do it and not think much about it. This book put it all out there in a way I’ve never seen before and with a tone that felt so genuine. Not mugging for anyone. Anyway it made my stomach hurt with some weird PTSD stuff, but I’m glad it exists.
27 reviews1 follower
December 7, 2019
Apart from the metre of the poems feeling a bit awkward at times, like she was squeezing too many words in, I loved this narrative of Hollie McNish's experience of pregnancy, giving birth and raising her little girl. Honest and unsentimental: if I ever have a kid, I'll definitely come back to this to be in her company again.
87 reviews
January 15, 2020
The concept of the book is really good but it’s badly executed. I’m not a fan of poetry but was getting excited about reading some killer spoken words but unfortunately there’s a lot of waffling. I came across a line that read: ‘The trees were getting reading to...’
I had to abandon the book.
Profile Image for Laura Green.
8 reviews1 follower
May 1, 2023
It’s official. I love Hollie McNish. So many brilliant poems on parenthood, motherhood and just general society. Her poem ‘Embarrassed’ about breastfeeding is one of the best things I’ve read/watched. She manages to combine personal and political in a way that I love and that feels really accessible. I also loved her poem on the pink/blue hideousness of raising children.
Only reason that I’ve given this 4 rather than 5 stars is just because this book focuses upon the first couple of years of her daughters life, and I’m now out of this stage, so it resonated with me less than ‘Slug’ did. I imagine if I read this a few years ago when my eldest was a baby it would have been 5 for sure.
Can’t wait to see her perform in person in July, and can’t wait for her next book out next year.
Profile Image for Barbora Kraml.
29 reviews6 followers
July 26, 2018
I have to say I have a soft spot for McNish, I saw her performing in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and she was so amazing! I love how honest she is - open about all her emotions, and struggles. The poems are fun, optimistic, they often rhyme (I especially love her for this), but most importantly they have a message. McNish has a lot to say, and the way she says it - she just makes you listen.
Profile Image for Patricia.
30 reviews9 followers
July 31, 2019
Su poesía me ha dejado fría *rima intencionada*. El valor del libro para mí estaba más en el aspecto documental de su experiencia sin tapujos. E incluso en esa parte he sentido cierta monotonía y simplicidad.
Profile Image for Jade Courtney .
451 reviews4 followers
February 25, 2021
I'm not the biggest poetry reader and I think some of the poems just went over my head. But this was still an enjoyable and entertaining read, despite my not being able to relate to the subject matter!
Profile Image for bowiesbooks.
282 reviews95 followers
February 3, 2022
Hollie’s done it once again! Absolutely in loved with her style of writing, the honesty and rawness of her words never fail to astound me. Will once again be recommending her work to everyone I know.
Profile Image for Jessica.
362 reviews
August 29, 2018
This book was so good I cried multiple times whilst reading it. Hollie McNish just captures emption so purely and so simply it’s seemingly effortless
Displaying 1 - 30 of 181 reviews

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