Laura Taylor, St Helens, Merseyside, UK.
Laura was born into a working-class family and retained the values of that upbringing. Material gain is not a high priority – happiness, harmony, love and equality are. Laura identifies herself as a socialist, a feminist, and says she has challenged arbitrary forms of authority all her life.
I do not believe in hierarchies. I have no ‘art background’ as such, I’ve never studied creative writing. I just started writing poetry in 2010 for the first time.
What motivated you to deal with the subjects within your poetry?
‘Write for Revolution’ was about seeing a female poet perform, and being so emotionally overwhelmed by her words that I went away from that experience thinking that I had things to say, too.
The poem starts with dancing alone, and ends with ‘and now there’s more of us’, writing our lives for whoever is reading/listening, and connecting with them. When I get up on a stage to share my experiences in the form of poetry, I know from experience that there will be other women who will identify with it, and they will feel less isolated as a result.
Write for Revolution
We danced alone on wooden floors.
Volunteers making noise.
In later days, I heard that you had
swallowed lumps for breakfast.
I sat in darkness, closing throat.
Felt my own lumps swimming up.
Listening and wondering
of spun-out olive branches.
I went away and thought about
all the sorrow, all the fear,
all the tears we’d shed so far
could I help?
Could I stand up to make a change?
To help one woman in the world
feel less alone, less isolated.
I told about
loneliness and solitude,
rapture and revulsion,
for equal rights;
kissing girls and
And now there’s more of us.
Northern girls with tales to tell.
We reap and sow the seeds of change
and write our lives for you.
‘Unsolicited’ is based on all the unwanted and unasked-for ‘advice’ that I’ve received over the years on what it is to be a woman – or rather, a ‘lady’. It basically amounts to a list of things you can and cannot do – mainly the latter. Everything in that poem is based on true events in my life. I have spent long periods as a single parent, and know what it is to be demonised by the media and the government.
I am acutely aware that as women age, opportunities close down. In my life, there are jobs I’ve not been allowed to do, behaviour that I have been strongly discouraged from; I’ve felt the weight of societal disapproval for just being me and it’s suffocating.
Unsolicited (1968 – 2015)
You’re Not Allowed
this room, this bar,
a pint, on deck,
to fight or sulk,
or answer back,
to join the local snooker team,
to bare your legs
or armpit hair,
or sleep around,
to shout or swear,
to wear short skirts,
to wear short hair
Grow it, tie it, perm it, dye it, never cut it short
to be the boss,
come more than once,
to suit yourself,
to wank, to sweat,
to smell, or fart,
release a stream of pee
be clever, proud,
tell dirty jokes or pick your nose
That’s not very ladylike
to flirt, to age,
to speak your mind,
to even show your knicker line,
bring up a child
all on your own,
expose your breasts,
express your milk
to smoke, get drunk,
get up the duff
without a band of gold.
Single mothers are to blame for all the world’s depravity
Tell us why you chose this submission?
I have performed both poems many times, and without fail, I have had women laughing, nodding their heads in recognition, and thanking me for articulating their own experiences. If I can use my own hard times to make art, and share that widely, then that multiplies the cohesion, makes us all stronger.
Why have you chosen the medium you use for your art?
Purely by accident. As mentioned, it was the experience of another woman’s poetry that spurred me to write my own. I’d never really read any before, and thought I didn’t like it. Thought it was elitist, and ‘not for the likes of me’. It’s hugely addictive though! And I’ve discovered that it’s the perfect art form for me.
What is your process when creating?
I’ll start with a word, a phrase, a memory or a feeling that sparks in my mind. Sometimes that can be just out of the blue, sometimes I’ll deliberately set out to write about something that I feel strongly about, or wish to express. I will then just sit and type out as many associations with that as possible. Just let it flow, don’t even think about shaping it. It’s important to squeeze every last drop of what you think, how you think, how you feel, and how you can possibly express that.
Sometimes I’ll do a little research about ideas or words in the poem, which can then sometimes completely change the course of it! Then I read through the notes and associations, mull it all over, leave for a few days. Then and only then do I start to structure the poem. The title is almost always the last thing to be written.
I will work on the poem a little bit each day, working towards that sweet moment when it just ‘feels right’. When I get a feeling inside that this is the most perfect way to express how I feel.
I can spend ridiculous amounts of time worrying about punctuation too! Because it matters. Every single thing in there – each word, line break, spelling, grammar, punctuation, flow – everything counts in a poem. It’s a condensed piece of writing, a means of communication, so it all matters. I will spend a lot of time editing, and be quite severe with myself. Then I show my poems to my partner, who is a wonderfully supportive constructive critic and will, without fail, pick up on any tiny thing that I think may need changing.
This is the usual process. Every now and again though, a rare delight will happen and a poem will plop onto the page almost perfectly formed!
Who are you influenced by? What inspired you and your art?
I can honestly say that I have not been influenced by any poet or poem, as such. I don’t write like anyone else or attempt to emulate styles. I didn’t read poetry, didn’t think I would like it, thought it was not for me. As for inspiration – that initial time seeing the female poet perform. That’s what kicked all this off.
What does feminism mean to you and do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
Feminism is really quite simple – it is just about being fair, and everyone being treated equally, regardless of sex or gender. There are lots of strands of feminism, with differing ideas about the roots of female oppression and various resolutions to that, but ultimately it’s about fairness and equality. Yes indeed, I do consider myself a feminist. I am not a separatist, I simply want to be treated as an equal. Whilst I recognise that men too are manipulated and shaped by our culture, still to this day women are not treated equally, and so I will continue calling myself a feminist until we are. It would be lovely not to have to, not to have the same arguments, the same struggles, over and over and over again, but the plain truth is that we do.
What made you want to get involved with our non-profit ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL mission?
I was intrigued by the theme of your call-out for art in celebration of women, and identify strongly with the emphasis on giving voice to the silenced.
Do you feel women have to conform to social norms and stereotypes to be taken seriously? Do you have any experiences of this?
I don’t think women can win either way to be honest! You can conform, you may gain approval, but will that mean you are taken seriously? No, not in my experience. It just allows for more opportunities for continued oppression. Conform and you will be treated as the type of person society thinks you should be, ie, passive, submissive, and second-class; more concerned with minutiae than the state of the world. Rebel and you’ll be a ‘troublemaker’, or worse. All you can ever do is keep yourself strong inside and out, and stay true to yourself and your beliefs. Educate yourself, keep your own counsel, and connect with others. Strive for equality.
Do you think that women and men are equal in today’s societies around the world? Have you any experience of this?
Yes, I realised very early on that men and women were absolutely not treated equally. I was constantly reminded that my behaviour and clothing were ‘unladylike’, that there were a whole raft of petty rules that only applied to me and not the boys around me.
When I was growing up, I was told in no uncertain terms that I should not try to get the job I wanted, as a long-distance lorry driver, because I would be ostracised and given a hard time by the male truckers. I wanted to join the Royal Navy to travel the world like my Dad had done, but was told that women were not allowed on board ships – I could have a ‘nice office job’ in Germany if I wanted to travel. Constantly asked who I was going to marry when I grew up – not ‘was I interested in the idea of marriage’, just presented with that assumption, aged 5! I was not allowed to join the local pool team because I was female, despite being as good as the other players. I was refused drinks served in a pint glass and given two half glasses instead. I have been asked if I was pregnant in job interviews and whether I planned to get married.
I have been physically intimidated in working situations, disregarded in others in favour of a male colleague, and inappropriate and offensive suggestions made to me by male colleagues and bosses. I have been inappropriately touched on countless occasions – this is still considered ‘normal’ behaviour by many in our society.
I have been told how to dress, what to wear, how to wear my hair, what to put on my face, how to sit, walk, speak, and what to say/not to say. I am often referred to as ‘feisty’ – a term only applied to women with strong beliefs, never men.
There are lots of (derogatory) words for women that have no male equivalent. I see double standards and inequality etched into the very core of our society.
I continue to experience casual sexism on a depressingly regular basis, with the odd high-impact encounter. And that’s the tip of the iceberg, in the Western world only. I am painfully aware that for women in other parts of the world, life is so very much more unequal, difficult, oppressive, and in many cases physically dangerous and life-threatening.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for etc…..?
Domestic violence, Socialism, political apathy, social inequality. I have recently joined the Green Party, as their policies are people-centred, striving for equality. I’m committed to standing as a candidate for them in the upcoming local elections.
What does the statement ART SAVES LIVES mean to you and has art in anyway “saved” your life in any way?
It means connecting – people, thoughts, ideas. It means strength in unity. Art can do this and you don’t even have to be in the same room, never mind the same country. Once it is documented in some way it can then be shared. As a deeply unhappy teenager, I found solace in the words and music of Janis Joplin. It felt like she was singing directly to me, for me, and expressing how I felt. In the pits of depression, I felt that I was not alone. And that’s a really common experience, in all art forms. That moment when the light-bulb flashes and we think “Oh! It’s not just me!”. Humans are sociable beings – even when we’re introverted, we still thrive on a certain amount of contact, of identification with others. Art is a way of doing that.
Music is invaluable in the care of people diagnosed with dementia. Research shows that the experience of listening to music stimulates all areas of the brain simultaneously. People who no longer communicate will smile, stand up, waltz around the room, loving the music, remembering words and melodies. It’s quite astonishing the impact this art form has on people’s lives.
How can your art be used to create change and is this something you want for your art?
I perform my poems regularly, at various venues and locations, and I’ve been widely published – see my earlier comment about documenting art, so that it can be accessed by all. I write about a number of issues, and know from the reception of my performances that my words have touched people, made them think, feel, cry, laugh, get angry. They have CONNECTED with them. I also know that I have inspired other people to start writing, or start writing AGAIN after a long break, raising their own issues, and sharing them with others to identify with. Art creates unity, solidarity. One of my poems about the effects of Thatcherism on our household was published in a magazine, the proceeds of which go to the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which is working to get justice for miners who were the victims of police brutality, lies, and cover ups at Orgreave in 1984.
Do I want art (mine or others’) to create change? Yes, absolutely I do. It’s one of the best forms of awareness-raising that I know of – it creates change via this process. I believe the arts to be as essential to our understanding of the world as the history books, politics, and the media. Let BOTH sides speak, not just the side with power.
What are your goals as with your art?
To keep writing, keep performing, keep reaching out. To keep enjoying what I do, and to give pleasure and comfort to others. Simple as that. It would be nice to scratch a living from it, but extremely unlikely!
What is your next project or piece that you are working on?
I’m in touch with a publisher who is interested in publishing a collection of my poems next year, which is very exciting. I’m also working on publishing a book of ekphrastic poems with some friends. One of them is a talented photographer, and 3 of us poets have been so inspired by his images we have been writing poems based on them. We’re hoping to bring out a quality ‘coffee table’ book of the poems and images, as well as an exhibition of them. We’re all from working-class communities – poetry wasn’t ‘for the likes of us’. Except that it is, and more people like us need to know that.
And is there anything you would like to add to your interview?
I believe that engaging with the creative outlet/s of your choice brings a wealth of benefits – mental stimulation and stability, pure joy in the incomparable experience of the creative process, the connection to other human beings.
Art doesn’t ‘just’ save the lives of others, it can save your own too. The often-cathartic processes involved make it your very own personal therapy, and one which I wish everyone would try at least once.
Bang a drum, pluck a string, sing a song, have a dance, write a verse, paint a picture, and enjoy. And when you find something you love doing, that stokes your soul and makes you smile, just keep doing it.
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