Polari Prize: C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor

What is the Polari Prize?

The Polari Prize is the UK’s only LGBTQ+ book prize. This year, I was delighted to be contacted to be offered books from the shortlist to review. There is a childrens and YA category as well as a first book prize along with the main prize. Founded in 2011, this year is the award’s eleventh year. Founded by author and activist Paul Burston, the awards celebrate LGBTQ+ books, fiction and non-fiction. This year, the awards will take place at the British Library on the 15th November.

C+anto & Othered Poems

Joelle is an award winning writer and poet. This book is a “book of silences”, Taylor says in the preface. And there is certainly a lot of space to breath and reflect in the collection of poems. This is one of two poetry collections in this year’s shortlist, the other being Rocksong by Golnoosh Nour.

The cover of C+nto & Othered Poems by Joelle Taylor

This feels much more like a traditional collection of poems. Joelle plays with structure and form a lot more but the messages behind each remain clear. I’m not sure if I find it as accessible as Rocksong, but the poems are certainly just as thought provoking and evocative.

I’m instantly taken to Soho, for example:

& now that Old Compton Street
is a museum & the old bars

are shopping arcades &
the sex cinema is a gift

shop & now that
pimps have blue plaques

Personal experiences in poetry 

This collection is political. Joelle says that while we are in the “golden time” to be gay, queer spaces are closing, TERFs are coming and the whole LGBTQ+ community is fragmenting.

But this is more than a polical book. It is obvious that the poems in this collection are very personal to Joelle. Indeed, the blurb even describes the book as part-memoir and that is very clear. 

two person kissing each othr
Photo by Victoria Akvarel on Pexels.com

Not only is the collection part-memoir, Joelle uses theatre too to bring the reader to the experience. We are given stage directions that put us in the action of the poem, experiencing it along with the writer which is a unique and interesting experience. 

History and language

Any book that opens with a glossary is great for me. I love collecting queer terms and slang and this book is full of that, through historical uses to the modern day. From tribades in the 1500s, to the black triangles worn by German lesbians in WW2 and right up to modern slang, this book feals authentic.

Would I read more?

Because of timings and editing work, I simply don’t have time to review, in depth, all of the books on the shortlist. Maybe, in time, I will but by reading a short section, I thought I would be able to ask myself if I would want to read more of this book.

This is a collection that will definitely be staying on my shelf. It might not be as well thumbed as Rocksong, it provides a really interesting historical context for lesbian life. 

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Editor and proofreader specialising in LGBTQ+ writing, both fiction and non-fiction.

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