Praised by judges as “a blazing book of rage and light,” C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor has won the TS Elliot poetry prize for her look at butch lesbian counterculture in the 1990s. This award is the most valuable in British poetry, and the only one judged purely by established poets.
Taylor, an award-winning poet, playwright, author and editor, describes her collection of poems as a memoir set in 1980s and 1990s London that explores “what it means to be butch and a masculine woman, what it means to be lesbian.”
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When asked about the representation of butch lesbians in the mainstream media now, Taylor was scathing. “What representation? I’m sorry, I don’t see any. It’s literally, absolutely nowhere,” she said.
She added that her prize might show the possibility of increased visibility. “It’s a call really to all butch women, trans mascs, non-binary, gender non-conforming, funny-looking men, funny-looking women,” she said. “The butch identity, I feel, is resurfacing.”
“Since writing C+nto, I’ve felt such an extraordinary tenderness from other butches, who I’m sharing space with. It’s that tenderness really that’s at the heart of the writing of the book … Don’t look at the fact that you think we look like men. Look at how we love one another.”
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Taylor says her work is intended “both to acknowledge the crimes against the LGBT community and reflect back to a time when we had a greater sense of unity, of self.”
One of the judges, Glyn Maxwell, describes her work as “pretty autobiographical. But then there’s also imaginative renderings of nightlife – of lesbian clubs, some of which are kind of hellish and some of which are heavenly. It’s a really vivid read.”
“There is no part of a butch lesbian that is welcome in this world. It was bad when I was a teenager. It is as bad today,” Taylor writes in her preface.
Taylor is now in the process of developing C+nto & Othered Poems into a theatre production and plans to perform an hour-long solo version at a literary event in Australia in March.