Talia Randall – Twisted tongues, innuendo and bumbling grammar; the foundations of my spoken word.

Apples and Snakes’ Poet of The Month for May, Talia Randall, talks about the unique power of Spoken Word, and her new show Bloodlines

A foreign mother.
Substandard English education.

These are the things that make spoken word my home.

I don’t know nothing about grammar. I’m not well-read. I don’t have any training in writing, performance, nothing.


I come from a people whose language was nomadic; who carried entangled tongues across Europe and the Middle East. They stuffed their saddlebags with syllables and idioms. Like parent birds with worms spilling from their mouths they fed their descendants vocabulary, so today, the same sound waves vibrate in modern-day living rooms. I also come from a people whose lives were full of wordplay. Who cooed and cackled over the ripe innuendo of the music hall songs:

I always hold in having it if you fancy it
If you fancy it, that’s understood
And suppose it makes you fat?
I don’t worry over that
A little of what you fancy does you good.

– ‘A Little of What you Fancy’ by Fred W. Leigh and George Arthurs, often performed by Marie Lloyd, Queen of the Music Hall’.

Photo: Mike Massaro

Photo credit: Mike Massaro

As a kid (and still, to this day), puns, cheap witticisms and double entendre are art forms of the highest rank in my house. Mix all that with the discovery of Ursula Rucker via Things Fall Apart by The Roots, and at age 17 this frizzy haired white girl found an art form she could express herself with (even if those early poems I wrote make me shudder with how terrible they are).

Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words,” says Gwendolyn Brooks. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Having been writing and performing for a few years now, I see there is a profound elegance to spoken word. The supposed simplicity with which a writer constructs something magical from a tool we use every day; words. Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way as Charles Bukowski puts it. Innit.

I’m not religious, but I crave ritual, and it is the ceremonial nature of The Spoken Word that makes it so powerful. Whatever our culture, speeches, stories or prayers are used at the most significant moments in our lives.

This human instinct to construct words for such occasions is so deeply embedded in our collective unconscious and I think that’s why a spoken word performance can stay with you forever, be it heart achingly beautiful, or utterly cringe-worthy.

This, along with spoken word’s accessibility, is the key to my love of the genre. You don’t need any specialist tools, or training, you just need a mouth and a willingness to listen.

My way into performance was through spoken word. But I don’t see myself as an artist from one particular discipline. I work with sound, music, theatre, comedy, sequins… the list goes on. This isn’t because I’m indecisive, it’s because I’m always thinking: ‘What forms best suit what I’m trying to say?

But no matter what type of work I’m making I carry the sensibilities of spoken word with me – its immediacy, the direct relationship with the audience, its accessibility as an art form, and therefore the diversity of styles and performers. This is what I value most about the genre, and this is what it can teach other art forms.


Artwork Credit: Rory Lee

Spoken word has this reputation for being autobiographical, somehow more ‘truthful’ than other art forms. I don’t buy this. Just because a story might be character driven or fictional doesn’t make it any less real. These limitations don’t serve the genre.

However, I do think that spoken word has a unique power in that it can help us utter the things that are difficult to say. Robert Frost says, a poem begins with a lump in the throat, and that could not be more true. Spoken word can help us speak the unspeakable.

I’m using spoken word as a way to talk about complex subjects like conflict, Communism, and the Middle East in my new show, Bloodlines. But there are other art forms that also help me express these massive topics, namely comedy (particularly clowning about in spandex and leotards), and music (hooking contact microphones to vegetables. Obviously).

The real pleasure I get is in putting these art forms together and blurring the boundaries between them to create a piece of work that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Well, that’s the aim anyway; let’s see if I manage to pull it off.

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