Hollie McNish’s ‘funny and serious’ poetry wins Ted Hughes prize

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A “funny and serious, humane and consciousness-raising” poetry collection that reports from the “frontline of motherhood” has scooped the prestigious Ted Hughes poetry award for new work in poetry.

YouTuber Hollie McNish beat six other shortlisted poets to the £5,000 prize with her third collection, Nobody Told Me. The collection combines poems and diary entries in a revealing memoir that follows her from when she discovered she was pregnant seven years ago, to when her daughter turned three years old. The prize, which is administered by the Poetry Society, was presented by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy at a ceremony in London on Wednesday.

Singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams, who judged the prize with poets Jo Bell and Bernard O’Donoghue, said the book “should be sold alongside Caitlin Moran and Bill Bryson. Honest and insightful, it will resonate outside the poetry world to reach a new generation of poetry readers.”

The collection covers all aspects of motherhood, challenging taboos about post-pregnancy sex and breastfeeding as well as the sense of isolation and loss many women feel after giving birth. It also celebrates the joys of having a young child. On publication, the Guardian wrote that “her poems can often sound like love letters to her daughter and each phase of babyhood”.

The Cambridge graduate has earned a reputation for breaking new ground with poetry and performances that straddle the literary and pop scenes. As well as becoming the first poet to record an album at Abbey Road, McNish has collaborated with rapper George the Poet and Kate Tempest, who won the Ted Hughes award in 2012. Her YouTube videos have been viewed more than four million times.

Speaking to the Guardian about the collection in 2016, McNish said the poems were in part about addressing the “stigma attached to writing about things related to women in poetry”. She added: “It just shocked me how hard certain things are as soon as you become pregnant – and yet no one talks about it.”

Other shortlisted work included novelist and poet Will Eaves’s The Inevitable Gift, Salena Godden’s LIVEwire and Caroline Smith’s The Immigration Handbook to win the award. Established in 2009 by Carol Ann Duffy, the prize is funded with the annual honorarium traditionally paid to the laureate by the Queen. Previous winners include David Morley, Andrew Motion and Alice Oswald.