The Monthly talks to writer and poet Lily Holloway – Part 2

Part one of this interview is here

Why Poetry?

I gravitated towards poetry because I was excited by the poems I was reading—what people were creating seemed boundless. The poets I first engaged with (Vanessa Crofsky, Courtney Sina Meredith, and Selina Tusitala Marsh, to name a few) amazed me with their sheer level of skill in wielding the word and the page.

I also like the process of learning the ‘rules’ of what makes ‘good’ poetry, and then breaking them on purpose.

In addition to poetry, I also write creative non-fiction and the odd piece of fiction or play script. There is something about poetry which keeps me coming back for more, though. I am constantly thinking about the best ways to write what I want to convey.

How did you develop your writing style which seems to marry an on-the-page approach with a performance element?

I think some of my poems could be considered performance poems in that they are best read out loud. I have always been a bit too anxious to delve into spoken word poetry, but I have always been involved in debates and speechmaking. I think that is a large part of what has influenced my more performance-oriented pieces—they are poems that want to convince you of something, that demand to be heard for one reason or another. Sometimes I don’t realise that what I am writing is for performance until I have finished a piece and I read it out loud during my editing process.

With both my performance-poems and my ‘page’ poems, if you want to define them as such, I enjoy playing around with form. Often, it’ll take a while for a poem to ‘settle’ into what I feel is its natural place on the page. When I sit down to write a poem, I am excited by where it will take me.

I don’t know if I really believe in finding your ‘voice’ as a writer. I’m like a magpie, always looking for exciting writing so I can attempt to break it down into components I might then utilise. I’m not looking to define myself as one kind of poet, I’m having fun experimenting with different techniques both in performance and on the page. I’m not married to the idea that I write poems one certain way, I’m still learning and I am definitely having a lot of fun as I go.

Lily’s performance starts at approximately 57 minutes

Do you work instinctively or do you craft your work?

I am still working to develop the habit of holding back my perfectionist inner-critic while I am in the drafting stage. On a good day, the poem is able to flow and direct itself. Other days, the little editor in my head gets involved in the process far too early, and the ideas aren’t able to pool without judgement.

One of the poems I read for the event where I met you, Gordon, was written with an intense focus on rhythm. I sat with a metronome, actually, as a part of a task set by my lecturer, Dr Michele Leggott. This allowed me to focus on getting out words rather than making sure each word I wrote down was perfect. Once I had a mass of text, I was then able to work on the nitty-gritty of forming and editing the poem. I hope to write more in this kind of way. The best poems, for me, come when I am less judgemental about what I am writing. So, on some days, I find it is best to leave the piece for when I am in a better headspace.

Has your university education impacted your writing?

One of the most valuable skills I have learnt from my English and ancient history studies is close reading—this allows me to examine a poem I like and break it down into its components. Then, when it comes to writing my own work, I feel like I have a better command over the techniques I am using. Studying in-depth concepts, figures and historical happenings also makes for great source material! I am often inspired to engage creatively with the academic readings I am assigned.

Currently I am interested in how academic and creative non-fiction works can intersect with poetry, and how poetry can be used as a method of research. Both academic and literary spaces can be elitist, hostile, and racist. I feel privileged to be able to exist within them without people questioning my right to be there (not all have this privilege). University writing also certainly privileges a certain style and form of writing over others.

At my university I have studied (and continue to study) under poets such as Selina Tusitala Marsh, Lisa Samuels, Michele Leggott, Ruby Porter, and Makyla Curtis. I think the university is lucky to have enthusiastic and encouraging creative mentors who make poetry both engaging and accessible.

My academic writing background can be a double-edge sword, though, in that it sometimes becomes difficult to write for fun and, perhaps, it’s easier to be hyper-critical when that’s how you’ve been taught to engage with texts.

Do you have a collection coming anytime soon?

I have a chapbook releasing on September the 9th as a part of AUP New Poets 8 (Auckland University Press) alongside two other poets, Tru Paraha and Modi Deng. You can find it on the Auckland University Press website.

I have set myself the goal of crafting my first solo collection but if you are interested in any of the work I have floating around the internet in the meantime, you can find a full list at

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