Get to know: Poet Joelle Taylor


This March, we present spoken word showcase Trope in partnership with leading spoken word and poetry organisation Apple and Snakes. Headlining Trope is award-winning poet, playwright and author Joelle Taylor. Joelle has performed her poetry internationally and is host and editor of Out-Spoken Live. She is currently writing a new one woman show Butterfly Fist, which she will preview as part of Trope.

We speak to Joelle to find out more about her journey as a poet and the inspiration behind her upcoming work. 

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about how you got into poetry?

My access point, like a lot of young working-class artists, was music. I was the songwriter for a local punk band in the ’80s then developed into delivering solo sets. I also co-founded a theatre company, which took these epic poems and turned them into spoken word physical theatre. I was attracted to the idea of being able to write, direct and perform; to have that sense of total cultural control. The clubs also allowed me to side-step the literary gatekeepers, to find my own audience and common language.

There is a new generation of poets on the rise, many of whom are known as ‘Insta Poets’. What are your thoughts on the future of poetry?

Poetry has never been more relevant. In times of great turmoil, distrust, and grief poetry can provide us with the words to our ideas, the ideas to our actions. The spoken word poetry club is itself a radical space which seeks a democratic culture, a place in which to network and learn. Poetry for me will always be a live event, but for others, it’s something they connect with better in film or on social media. It doesn’t matter the form or media, the fact of poetry as a tool for social change is now broadly recognised. Poetry is no longer bound to the page or to the mouth. 

What inspires you to write – what’s your creative process?

For the last two years I’ve been focusing on my debut book of short stories, The Night Alphabet. The book focuses on women worldwide, and each of the stories is connected to one main story so that each chapter is a vignette on a woman’s life. The process for this has been much longer, more fraught with danger and doubt, than any poetry collection I’ve written. Sometimes I work from a central visual image, sometimes from the poetry alive in a story. Other stories are inspired by wanting to speculate on issues affecting only women, to bring them to a level of consciousness. The only way to write is to write. Forget all the top ten tips, forget feng shui and accept you will never find the right paper and pen. Just write. Your pen knows things you don’t yet.

What do you hope to express through your work?

I am motivated by global politics, investigating the small stories, the marginalised narratives. My current work looks at the experiences of women and at female sexuality and explores alternate feminist forms and aesthetics. I am currently writing a new one woman show Butterfly Fist, which I will preview a part of Trope. A documentary about the making of Butterfly Fist is being produced by Radio 4 for broadcast in May. 

Audre Lorde said, “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t”. Who are you writing for and why?

I write to reclaim my voice in the hope it will inspire others from more marginalised communities to reclaim theirs. I write to tell the stories no one told me. To galvanise, to inspire and motivate. And because silence is a song our enemies taught us. 

Can you tell us about your latest project The Night Alphabet and the inspiration behind it?

The Night Alphabet grew from my last poetry collection, Songs My Enemy Taught Me. I wanted to expand some of the narrative poetry in the book to form a collection of inter-connected short stories, that would continue the initial work. As an important part of my process, I mentored 3 women who I’d met on the Songs My Enemy Taught Me workshops tour (I worked with 18 different groups of marginalised women) to help them develop their skills in writing fiction from life events. I’m still deep in the writing, and every day each blank page is either a wall or a window, and I have to decide which. There is no other way to the end of the book than through the page.

You’re joining us at Trope in March – what do you hope people will take away from your performance?

I hope they will be inspired to join the movement, this radical complex community of dissident poets. 

Do you have any advice for those aspiring to write and perform?

  • Read as much contemporary poetry as possible from a wide range of publishing houses
  • Attend as many events as you can afford – offer yourself as an open mic to gain free or cheap entry. You need to see what is happening in the moment, to become a part of it. Let your face be seen. Let your seriousness be seen.
  • Write. Every day. 

Who are your favourite up-and-coming poets we should have on our radar?