Hollie McNish doesn’t do formalities. Meeting her at the plodge, I go in for a handshake and come out with a warm, smiling hug. After a stunned silence (on my part, not hers), we launch into a conversation about her journey, her daughter, coming back to Cambridge, and the evening’s entertainment that awaits us.

Big a deal as I am, it’s not actually me she’s come to see: Hollie is topping the bill at an evening of dinner and dancing organised by the outgoing Emma Women’s Officer in aid of Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, a spectacular night of which she was undoubtedly the star.

Hollie McNish/Youtube

Hollie McNish is a real life Wonder Woman: having studied MML at King’s, she’s since carved out a career as (yes, I’d go as far as to say) the UK’s most successful spoken word poet. The girl’s racked up too many accolades to count, although 3rd place in the World Slam finals has got to be up there. Funnily enough, though, it was only after she left Cambridge to do a Masters in London that she first discovered the spoken word scene: "I started sneaking into this poetry night in London. At first, I never read anything out, I chickened out." It was only when her boyfriend "sort of refused to hear any more of the poems", she tells me, that "I was forced to read them to someone else. So I read them out, and then someone asked me to do a gig. And it just went on from there."

Hollie’s humility makes her falling into spoken word seem almost accidental. But there’s something about how she thinks that gives me an inkling that her meteoric rise to spoken word success was more than beginner’s luck: it’s in her blood. She tells me how "at school, I always used to summarise stuff. That’s what I was good at […] It just annoys me when things are made too complicated." Then, at King’s, "I remember in my first year getting so annoyed at people trying to get me to write in a more complicated way. Not that the thoughts were more complicated, you just had to write in a more academic way […] I didn’t think there was any point."

Part of the attraction of spoken word, then, was its allowing her to communicate complexity in a simple way. "It’s really nice now to do poetry that people can understand […] That’s what I love about spoken word." Not only that, but the reach of spoken word is inherently so much greater for its being oral rather than written. In other words, for being able to make it into a YouTube video (of which Hollie’s most popular, ‘Mathematics’, has racked up 1.7million views – not bad for a poet). "If you’re not so good at reading, or you don’t like reading, you can still enjoy it. It’s a more democratic medium."

'Mathematics'Holly McNish

Given her Masters in Development Economics, it’s unsurprising that so many of McNish’s poems take on big social issues, from feminism to xenophobia and beyond. McNish is keen to emphasise, however, that though "a lot of people use spoken word to get across political ideas […] at most of the spoken word nights I go to, there’s such a range […] There’s lot of mundane stuff as well." This variety is reflected in McNish’s own poetry: ‘Embarrassed’, a poem which begins about a new mother’s frustration at having to breastfeed her daughter in public toilets for fear of offending with a "flash of flesh", expands its reach to take in those mothers in the developing world shamed out of breastfeeding and scammed into buying formula milk. Similarly, ‘Megatron’, which starts off anecdotally by recounting her partner’s dragging her to see the new Transformers film, ends by triumphing the transformation undergone by women’s bodies in pregnancy: "Megatron ain’t shit." It’s this ability to add up everyday experience to something bigger that gives McNish’s poetry its unique power, the velvet glove of her humour masking the iron fist of a call for change.

It’s unsurprising, however, that much of McNish’s recent poetry is preoccupied with childbirth and motherhood, this being an experience through which she has just gone, and is keen to share. She tells me about her fury at the militant gendering of children’s bikes and fancy dress ("It makes me want to kill loads of people"), her paranoia about what she wears in front of her daughter ("She was amazed when I first put on high heels, like it was the best thing in the world'), how hard and confusing it is to be a feminist role model to her child.

But it’s not all bad. McNish points out that her daughter has a skewed vision of the world due to her disproportionate number of successful female friends: "Until recently, she thought that all doctors were female, and all historians were female, because they’re the people I knew from Cambridge. She can see successful women, which is pretty good I think." Which makes it all the more baffling, she says, when her daughter comes home wanting to dress up as a princess.

'Megatron'Holly McNish

Athough McNish feels fortunate to have been able to bring up her daughter in an environment where successful women are the norm, she feels there’s still a long way to go. It’s the everyday sexism people don’t see: the boy’s and girl’s height charts at Halfords, the appending of the word ‘pretty’ to every girl’s Halloween costume. It’s the attitudes of the wider population she’s interested in changing, not the intellectual elite. This is precisely why, wanting to criticise Beyoncé's reference to Tina and Ike Turner’s abusive relationship, she went to The Daily Mirror, rather than a broadsheet. "It would have been like preaching to the choir", she says. "It reached people that wouldn’t otherwise read an article like that." When I ask a question that’s been bandied around a lot of late, whether Beyoncé ought even be measured up against feminist principles, McNish is unforgiving of the popstar: "I think Beyoncé is relevant. I don’t think she’s much of a feminist, but more people are going to hear her than anyone else, so what she does is going to make a bloody big difference."

It seems to me that this is precisely why McNish does spoken word. It’s a uniquely democratic art form, one whose message reaches those to whom the poetic medium and the issues to which it gives voice might otherwise seem irrelevant. It activates a social consciousness dormant in the YouTube generation, sweetening the pill with delicious rhythms and rhymes. What I’m left with is the sense of a woman in love with lyricism, but who simultaneously sees poetry as quite a practical instrument for social change. Yet, she wields it so effortlessly, delivering her set with an ease that is truly delightful. And as she takes her seat amidst thunderous applause, she addresses the crowd as if conversationally: "Thanks."

The Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre is currently looking for volunteers to help man their helpline. Emmanuel College's dinner and dancing raised an incredible £1,904.85 on their behalf; enough to pay the cost of their phone bill for a year. More details about the organisation and its work can be found at cambridgerapecrisis.co.uk.