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13 March 2024updated 14 Mar 2024 2:09pm

Joelle Taylor Q&A: “I’d like to see dinner ladies take over parliament”

The poet on being raised by TV, the inspirational Linda Bellos, and why writing is like archaeology.

By New Statesman

Joelle Taylor was born in Lancashire in 1967. Her collection C+nto and Othered Poems won the 2021 TS Eliot Prize and she co-curates and hosts Out-Spoken Live at London’s Southbank Centre.

What’s your earliest memory?

Watching my dad leave for work, tapping his suit pockets for keys, wallet and comb.

Who are your heroes?

Like most working-class children in the Seventies I was raised in part by a television. It was both mother and father, and I found my heroes within it. Errol Flynn taught me how to party and dive, to fall from great heights but land gracefully, one eyebrow cocked. As an adult my hero is the author and theatre director Neil Bartlett. He remains one of our most brilliant and transgressive thinkers, his vision transforming UK queer culture.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Shrinking Goddess by Mineke Schipper is currently expanding my thinking. It’s a cultural and anthropological study of misogyny via global artworks, texts, myths and proverbs. Only by seeing what has been done can we undo it.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Linda Bellos. She became a phenomenal voice for the liberation of women during the 1980s, was the first black woman to become a part of the Spare Rib feminist magazine collective, and is the founder of Black History Month. I am not saying she has all the answers, but she does have some compelling questions.

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What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

UK Spoken Word Poetry 1980-2024 – a movement that not only created new audiences but literally built the stages we performed on.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would return to the old dyke dive bars in London or New York in the 1950s and 1960s.

Who would paint your portrait?

Clae Eastgate. In fact, Clae already has as part of a series of portraits of women poets. They are exhibited across the UK. 

What’s your theme tune?

“You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester. It reminds me of community. As soon as the first chords unravel, I am back among those who have taught me my body and its place – the dykes, the butches, the queers.  

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Before she died, my best friend Cass told me: “What other people think of you is none of your damn business.” I remind myself of that continually.

What’s currently bugging you?

The brutal annihilation of the Palestinian people before a protesting world. A genocide in the palm of our hands.

What single thing would make your life better?

The politicians are all imprisoned. The dinner ladies take over parliament.

When were you happiest?

At my book launch for The Night Alphabet in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I looked out and the whole place was packed with queers and butches, all the family gathered. It was very moving.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Archaeologist. In some ways, it’s just like being a writer, digging up earth rather than the page.

Are we all doomed?

In the (paraphrased) words of Derek Jarman: “The world was ending, so it was time to dance.”

“The Night Alphabet” by Joelle Taylor is published by Riverrun. She will appear at Cambridge Literary Festival on 18 April. Tickets: cambridgeliteraryfestival.com

[See also: Sam Carr Q&A: “We die and are reborn many times”]

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This article appears in the 13 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Keir Starmer’s soul

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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