I met Joelle Taylor at a poetry workshop one morning in Canterbury, in a chaotic mind state, wondering whether I should just go home. I’m glad I didn’t because she taught me lessons I didn’t know I needed. Though I may not have been ready to take them on, they stayed with me.
We connected through our synchronised life events, both still in the process of healing. With poetry as our vessel, we spoke of topics that most people leave alone. This is why I hold Joelle in such high esteem. She has the ability to open up channels of communication and connect people through poetry. To be able to connect people to themselves and the world around them is an incredibly powerful skill.
Last night I went to the launch of her new book entitled ‘Songs My Enemy Taught Me’. The title in itself rings true to the resilience she has built by using poetry as a voice for the struggles of life. The book articulates connections between personal struggles and the struggles which affect many women and men across the world. The ethos of this book is closely tied to her personal journey of reconciling the past through spoken word, whilst spanning outwards to the wider political struggle faced by women across different ages, race, sexuality, variability* and religion.
The night begun with Alex Vellis, a young man who is mentored by Joelle. He performed some incredibly heartfelt pieces ranging from his childhood, to the loss of love. He delivered his pieces with absolute authenticity, to the point that I distinctly felt my heart beating in the silence of the room. His use of pause when performing has the ability to hold space for the depth of his emotions, which dance into the air the audience breathes.
Following Alex Vellis, I was delighted to see Sabrina Mahfouz perform work from her book ‘How You Might Know Me’. As a person who Joelle has always spoken highly of, it was about time I witnessed her performance. ‘How You Might Know Me’ introduces us to 4 characters- Sylvia, Sharifa, Tali & Darina. These women are sex workers of different race and ages. But they are not just this, they are people. People with nuanced expressions of dreams and hopes for their life, but the societal barriers inhibit them from moving out of this position. Sabrina has the ability to completely draw you into the world of her characters, to the point that you want to make friends with the people she has summoned from her imagination. She delivers the characters with so much energy that you can’t help but be drawn in. She weaves reality into fictional characters, bringing them to life before us.
To end the evening Joelle read a few poems from her new book ‘Songs My Enemy Taught Me’. This book introduces with confessions of Joelles personal journey of ‘mental health issues, psychiatric hospital, suicide attempts, a repetitive eating disorder, drug addiction and one fuck of a lot of dancing’. By opening up about her life story, Joelle has voyaged on a journey to connect with other women around the world who have faced with the same hurdles. The research period involved a series of poetry masterclasses across the UK, which aimed to ‘enable other women to write and own their stories’. I thank Joelle for giving voice to those who have been silenced for too long.
Now is the time to keep talking, to keep engaging, collaborating and connecting. This is exactly what Joelle Taylor is achieving through her consistent commitment to writing her story, whilst helping others to write theirs too. Stories are there if we are willing to listen and they will teach us a fuck load more than what you read in a book (unless it’s Joelle Taylors book of course).
Please support poetry and get yourself a copy of ‘Songs My Enemy Taught Me’. This book will save you if you have struggled through life alone and in silence. You do not have to do that anymore. If this book/ Joelle has taught me anything, it’s that our voices are special and they can change everything.
To purchase a book, read an archive of other womens poetry and see when Joelle Taylor is performing visit her website.
To purchase a book & see when Sabrina Mahfouz is performing visit her website.
To hear more from the incredibly active poet Alex Vellis, visit his facebook page.
PHOTO CREDIT: Outspoken