Finest: Holly Magill – “The Politest Riot”

Holly Magill Finest

The Politest Riot

I will not play into hands that would beckon
close only to shuck me off before they
plunge into vats of antibacterial.

I will not play – screaming, swearing, kicking, spitting –
though God, I know the urge.

Far too easy for you to dismiss as emotional, erratic,
unstable hysteric.

I will not play. Because this is no game.

I am no cleverer – and no more thick – than those bawling the odds.
You would prefer their anarchy, fists through windows,
disorderly arrests to make an example.

Shame them as yobs in the press,
don’t know any better, any excuse for a ruck.
Waste of taxpayers’ money to educate the dross.

That would serve your policies well, I see that:
the NHS literally gave me vision.

I’m trying, I’m a good girl. I try…

courtesy and reason – a surprise to you
that shouldn’t be.

Yes, I have benefitted – from free uni education,
from Social Housing, from scrounging and school milk.
Been told I don’t talk like a DWP claimant.

In public libraries I learned
the lightning and violence of language.

Yes, officer, I will come quietly, so very quietly.

But not silent. I use the words you don’t
want the rough ’uns to comprehend.

O, still small voice not taped to a flying brick.

Every day more hands join in the dark.

“I’m so pleased to have been invited by Ben to contribute to his series of Finest features. It makes me feel like a slightly posh cheese with curly writing on the wrapper – which can only be a good thing in my view.

“I’ll own up straight off: I’m not the least bit skilled at talking about my poetry, much less assessing which of mine are actually any good. Now, when reading work sent to us at Atrium – – me and Claire Walker (co-editor and dear friend – no particular order) can happily disappear down the rabbit hole and spend hours on end debating the specific nuances of the sliced beetroot in line eleven, but when asked about my own work, I tend to go all a bit… foot shuffly and, y’know, like, yeah….

“However, the above poem is pretty close to my heart, a signature piece if you like. I wrote The Politest Riot a few years ago whilst incandescently angry (fairly sure early drafts were mostly just Rrrrrrraaaaaah!), but also whilst determined to keep my cool and not rise to negative stereotypes and expectations. I wanted to explore the concept of being quietly subversive – both from a personal perspective, but also a broader view. Me, I’m visually impaired, may appear small and fluffy and often wear polka dots… but I don’t believe outer appearances, my own or anyone else’s, should invalidate an individual’s views and experience.

“Last summer I was approached by esteemed Scots poet and editor, Hugh McMillan, to contribute a reading to his A Plague of Poetry project ( – so much intriguing poetry to investigate here!). It occurred to me how, whilst Riot was written long before Coronavirus was even a bleak speck of grot on our horizon, the poem had an uncomfortable relevance in the stressful, confusing times we found ourselves in, with emotions often runing so close to the surface.

“Sad to say, I’m still feeling that relevance. (Though the line about ‘vats of antibacterial’ isn’t about hand sanitizer! More those who would seek to wash their hands of unpalatable truths, of people who don’t fit neatly into an assigned box.)

“But also, I’d like to think there is a constructive defiance in this poem – a note of hope. Because heaven knows we need hope right now.”

Here’s the reading that Holly filmed for A Plague of Poetry:

Holly Magill’s poetry has appeared in numerous magazines, including The Interpreter’s House, Bare Fiction, and Under The Radar, and anthologies –Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press) and #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology (Fair Acre Press). She co-edits Atrium – Her debut pamphlet, The Becoming of Lady Flambé, is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing.

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