“We just haven’t had a big, immersive, spectacular show about butch dykes which is full of laughter but also a great deal of tragedy as well”
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE BY ROMAN MANFREDI
On 10 January, Joelle Taylor won the TS Eliot Prize for her book C+nto & Othered Poems (Westbourne Press), which has been praised by judges as “a blazing book of rage and light”. A hybrid of memoir and conjecture, the collection explores butch counterculture and communities of the 80s and 90s. In the Independent, Joelle described the win as “a triumphant moment of visibility for butch women.” I talk to the poet four days after her door-opening win. She enters the Zoom call with her iconic blonde quiff and charming smile. When I ask how the week has been for her she describes it as a whirlwind of “all your dreams coming true in one moment. It’s been amazing”.
I’m curious to hear what response she’s received from other butch lesbians. “It’s been incredibly positive. It’s been global. It’s demonstrated to me there is still a very strong butch counterculture”. She also shares her excitement of being able to connect with artists such as Campbell X and Roman Manfredi. “We’re quite closely developing our projects so that there is a sense that we’re networking again. We’re considering very carefully what each other are doing. How to support it, how to move it forward”.
Whilst C+nto offers a much-needed spotlight on butch lesbians, as the title suggests, it offers those who are “othered” to identify with the experiences shared. I tell Joelle that as someone who falls under the umbrella of non-binary, I saw myself within the text. “I tried to write a book that you could see yourself in if you’d ever felt exiled from your body.”
Within the book, Joelle addresses the rise of global atrocities against the LGBTQI community – from Poland and South Africa to here in the UK – all whilst we are seeing an increase in division from within. She discusses this state of emergency in our call: “It’s endemic and it’s coming back. It’s seeping in really slowly.” I have to know what steps she thinks we can take to nurture more unity within our community. Previously in our conversation we discussed the phenomenal film Rebel Dykes and she readdresses it now. “You saw that conversation in the Lesbian And Gay Centre. There were people absolutely fundamentally opposed to one another’s opinions, viewpoints and lifestyle, but it was still civil. I just think that a conversation needs to happen. We need to really impress on ourselves the threat. We’re in danger. They can’t tell the difference between me as a butch dyke, you as a non-binary person, or somebody else as a trans man. We’re all absolutely othered. So these distinctions that we’ve created online, in real life don’t exist.”
For anyone wanting more work from Joelle, don’t worry, she’s showing no interest in slowing down. C+nto is set to be adapted into a two-hour spectacular which she hopes to tour towards the end of 2022 or throughout 2023. The show will continue to explore the tension of what is written and what is performed and bridge our understanding of what art is.
Within the book, Joelle writes about Maryville, “a fictitious dyke dive bar”, which viewers will get to see come to life. The audience will become the punters at the different tables. There will be a stage for a drag queen who will sing East End torch songs which thread the scenes together. The show will follow one night in the bar. “After the show finishes, the night continues. The music comes back on”. Joelle will invite different queer artists to come on stage and share their work. “It’s gotta be a night of absolute riotous joy.”
“We just haven’t had a big, immersive, spectacular show about butch dykes which is full of laughter but also a great deal of tragedy as well.” Joelle’s face lights up with excitement as she talks in awe of the talented actors such as Charlie Josephine, E M Williams and Veronica Theron. “There is such camaraderie and solidarity. We laughed so much on stage. They took my poems and they made them funny. It’s really bizarre. I’m really excited about doing that”.
On top of this, Joelle is also completing The Night Alphabet, her first book of interconnected stories. “I’ve also been asked to release my back catalogue. So I’m looking at stuff I wrote, probably when I was your age, and wondering whether we can publish it.” I, for one, cannot wait to see what else Joelle gets up to this year.
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