EPISODE 2: Poetry and the Election

In episode two, we ask whether poetry can give us another way of looking at the election and can tell us more about ourselves than the latest the poll-figures. We talk to two of the UK’s brightest contemporary poets about how they take on the politics of today - talking immigration and feminism with Hollie McNish, and looking at how issues of economic policy and the environment get translated into the poetry of Helen Mort. If language is having a crisis in politics at the moment with spin-culture taking hold, we find poetic antidotes with Edith Hall, Professor of Classics at King’s College London, looking to historical examples of political language with both style and substance. And when it comes to creating social change, we ask what role poetry today plays in the debate…

This episode contains some themes which some listeners may find upsetting.

This podcast was produced by Alia Cassam.


Tim Dee is a BBC Radio Producer and writer. He specialises in arts programming for Radio 3 and 4, particularly poetry. Programmes include The Echo Chamber, A Map of British Poetry and Poetry Please. He also produces history documentaries and radio drama. He is the author of three books including The Running Sky (2009), The Poetry of Birds (2009) – an anthology co-edited with Simon Armitage, and most recently Four Fields (2013).

Edith Hall is Professor in the Classics Department and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s College London. Her most recent book, Introducing the Ancient Greeks: from Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind, was published in 2014. She appears regularly on BBC Radio and television and has acted as a consultant for professional theatre productions by the National Theatre, the RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe and recently with Ian Rickson and Kristin Scott Thomas for the Old Vic theatre’s production of Medea. She is co-founder and Consultant Director of the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama at Oxford University, Chair of the Gilbert Murray Trust and a Judge on the Stephen Spender poetry prize.

Hollie McNish is a published UK poet and spoken word artist. She has released three poetry albums Touch and Push Kick both to critical acclaim, and she is the first poet to record at Abbey Road Studios with her double album Versus. Her collection of written poetry is Papers, published by Greenwich Exchange, London. Graduating from Cambridge University in 2005 and with a Masters in Development Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, she gives readings and organises workshops both in the UK and internationally, and she runs the poetry in education organisation Page to Performance. Hollie has had commissions ranging from Radio’s 4s Woman’s Hour to The Economist, and her work has featured on XFM to MTV. She embarks on a UK wide tour this April.

Helen Mort was born in Sheffield. Her first collection Division Street was shortlisted for the Costa Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize and, in 2014, won the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize. She is the Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at The University of Leeds. Her poems have appeared in magazines including Poetry Review, The Rialto, Poetry London, The Manhattan Review, Granta and The North. She is currently working on a first novel and a collection of poems about mountaineering. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has described Helen Mort as “among the brightest stars in the sparkling new constellation of young British poets”.

Music and Audio Featured in this Programme:

  • Intro music: BBC News 2000 performed by Dream Themes (2014)
  • Extract from ‘Scab’ read by Helen Mort at the 2014 T.S. Eliot prize readings, recorded by the Poetry Book Society (2014) Available online: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz8l6G3U9wI
  • Song: ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’ by Belle and Sebastian from the album ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’ (2015)