Rhiannon McGavin is a twenty-year-old actress and poet. Her Condensed Shakespeare videos, impassioned poetry, and casual chats have caused over 37,000 people to subscribe to her YouTube channel. She currently lives in Los Angeles but has read her poetry in a variety of different locations inside and outside of the United States.
“Between the bicycles and cheap wine, I’m satisfied anytime I can read in Paris. Los Angeles is my hometown though, and the bookstores and libraries are always very sweet to me,” McGavin said.
McGavin incorporates other subjects such as history and science into her pieces. With such a busy schedule, full of classes and jobs and groceries, she manages time to surround herself with art. By understanding creation in various forms and sifting through the feelings it provokes, McGavin is able to center in on ideas.
“Recently, I saw an exhibition of Marc Chagall’s costumes, and he always said he used only emotions and dreams as the foundation of his work; it’s so clear in his creations, the heads floating above the village, lovers in a suspended bouquet,” McGavin said. “It’s how I temper those subjects actually, by reading my reference books over and over again, seeing how I react to information at new points in my life. It’s not enough to recite every little fact, you have to see how it fits into the world, and that means reading and processing a bit slower than expected.”
McGavin takes a notebook everywhere to jot down thoughts and utilizes journaling to help her distinguish between purely therapeutic writing and things to shape into poems. She tries to devote equal attention to the different aspects of writing without losing the big picture of the poem.
“I see poetry as a form of communication, each poem like a message in a bottle, so the most integral part of the process is figuring out how to convey that meaning to other people. This brings in form, diction, syntax, [and] understanding how to plug into established writing devices without leaving the lines snipped and dry,” McGavin said. “I read aloud while I’m editing to make sure it doesn’t sound stilted. If I’m stuck in the middle, I’ll go for a walk or swim, to sort of engage the physical body and leave the mind free to wonder about syllable counts.”
McGavin doesn’t judge her writing based on quantity and works on multiple poems at once. She is an open book to her audience, eventually performing all of her work.
“Some pieces may function differently on the page for an individual reader or in front of an audience, but all poems should be read aloud eventually,” McGavin said.
While she really enjoys reading a few of her short love poems, she finds them to be more of a personal experience. Her favourite type of poems to perform are those influenced on the vibe an audience gives off.
“In general, Chick Lit is the best because it’s very full body, the performance takes the place that the rhythm and meter of say, a sonnet would have, it’s punctuated with arm movements, vocal changes. It also depends on the audience, because people laugh in different places, so that keeps me on my toes and very aware of the surroundings,” McGavin said.
While her audience is varied, her videos and pieces are primarily aimed at teenage girls. On YouTube, she gives advice and opens discussion in her poetry on topics such as high school, cyber harassment, makeup, and studying tips.
“Consistently, the best audience is teenage girls. I read recently at the Teen Vogue Summit and it was pretty cold and late at the end of the day, but there was the most enthusiastic group hanging on. Getting to talk with these people in schools who love art, who make their own and support their friends, that’s the best in any city,” McGavin said.
In performing and competing with poetry, McGavin has advanced many valuable skills outside the poetry world such as public speaking and community organizing. Similar to other poets who attend slams, McGavin strongly values her long-lasting social connections within the community.
“Competing on slam teams in high school introduced me to so many wonderful people across the world, and inspired so many new poetry crushes. The friends and mentors from slam, I can’t overstate how much I love them,” McGavin said.
McGavin emphasizes the impact of being involved in poetry, regardless of location. She holds the view of writing as a two-way street with communication between creators and their supporters, as well as a connection to older works of writing.
“You don’t have to attend an Ivy League or move to a major city, because there is a community around you no matter where you are. It’s not just about writing either, you have to support the artists around you. I love writing to my favorite authors and leaving comments for people starting out, I know that I appreciate any kind word someone has for me, and I’m so grateful to the writers that inspire me,” McGavin said. “Reading is absolutely necessary, read contemporary writers and everything that came before them. Whenever something confuses or bugs me about modern stuff, I try to look back for something relative and historical and find some dissertation from the 70s. It’s a reminder that there’s a precedent for anything I’m dealing with, and those past centuries of letters are also part of the community.”
McGavin used to make little zines of her poems and pictures.
“Post-Winter was my favorite, it was a piece in 3 parts of the Persephone myth, I tore apart a pomegranate for the design, it felt immersive,” McGavin said.
You can buy Rhiannon’s first collection, Branches, that was published last year with Penmanship Press. She posts on her YouTube channel about every other week, discusses writing on her Twitter and Tumblr, and posts mostly recipes and flowers on her Instagram.