The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now because she’s busy writing poetry

Photo: Rex Features 

Remember that time James Franco wrote poetry? Yeah, this is worse than that

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By Hannah Banks-Walker on

The reincarnation of Vogue has been much discussed in the media. Editor-in-chief Edward Enninful promised greater diversity, a celebration of British talent and a move away from the old guard. What he didn’t mention, however, was poetry. No, hang on, let me be more specific: Taylor Swift’s poetry.

Yes, as January’s cover star, Swift eschewed the more traditional format of an interview in favour of penning her own poem. "Of course!" you’re thinking. The woman’s a celebrated lyricist – why shouldn’t she write a poem? Good point and, with lyrics from her new album, reputation (with a small “r”), including such profound declarations as “you make me so happy it turns back to sad”, I would agree. Well, I see your lyrics and I raise you the Vogue poem, which is possibly a bigger finger-up to modern poetry than the time my cousin wrote in her GCSE English paper that “comparing poems is a waste of time because they’re different and I don’t understand either of them".

This year, poetry has joined the ranks of staying in, arts and craft and corduroy. By that, I mean it's reclaimed its street cred. Forget those old, fusty poems of yore, which we all came to loathe due to their relentless appearances on school exam papers everywhere (look, I love Wordsworth as much as the next person, but I just can’t read what is essentially a description of him arsing around the Lake District any more). In their place is a new generation of young voices, many of them using new forms of social media to self-publish their poetry. Rupi Kaur, for example, is perhaps one of the best known of the Instapoets, using the platform to publish verse that deals with themes including race, love, sex and abuse. In fact, poetry became a tool for women, in particular, as many female poets (Hollie McNish, Kate Tempest and Vanessa Kisuule, to name but three) began using the medium as a form of protest. It all felt fresh, modern and empowering. And then Taylor Swift wrote The Trick To Holding On and, just like that, we all remembered why we didn’t want to read poetry all those years ago in GCSE English.

I would also point out that she’s merely the next in a long line of celebrities who think that a talent for music or acting makes them the new Christina Rossetti

I don’t want to completely (poetry) slam Swift. She has attracted yet more criticism in the past few days as she was unveiled to be one of Time magazine’s cover stars – a “silence breaker”, posing alongside Ashley Judd (the first high-profile woman to accuse Harvey Weinstein) and Susan Fowler, who fought against the harassment at Uber. Many have suggested she shouldn’t have been included with these women but, whatever anyone thinks of her music, poetry or otherwise, she did win her case against radio DJ David Mueller, whom she accused of sexually assaulting her. And surely, now more than ever, we should be celebrating every win we can?

I would also point out that she’s merely the next in a long line of celebrities who think that a talent for music or acting makes them the new Christina Rossetti. Enter Kristen Stewart, who was accused of writing “the worst poem of all time”  back in 2014 when she produced My Heart Is A Wiffle Ball/Freedom Pole for Marie Claire (what’s a wiffle ball?). Anyway, I do think that’s quite a harsh claim on the part of the media there, considering that James Franco has published several volumes of poetry, which are about as enlightening and moving as the time Shia LaBeouf wore a bag on his head for the sake of “performance art”.

I think, though, more than anything, my main issue with the poem is that, on first reading, it caused me much anxiety. “Who found – and published – my 16-year-old diaries?” I thought, stomach churning as I read the very words I’d written in the wake of an argument with my mum: “Hold on to childlike whims and moonlight/swims and your blazing self-respect.” No wait, sorry – that’s Taylor Swift. It’s like one mind.


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Photo: Rex Features 
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Arts & Culture
Hannah Banks-Walker

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