Asked if he ever gets pulled away from poetry to do a better job as a teacher or if he ever gets pulled out of teaching to do a better job at poetry, Taylor Mali, a former educator who is one of the best known members of the poetry slam movement, said, "That basically describes the tension of my entire career."
After an hour of speaking to Lawrence students in the Recital Hall on Monday—just part of two full days the world-renowned poet will spend in Groton interacting with LA students, faculty, and local residents—Mali explained that nobody should ever aim, as a career goal, to be a professional poet.
"I would never have ended up 'here' if 'here' is where I had aimed at being," he said. "Nevertheless, this is what I do now.
"I love teaching and I love poetry, and I was a teacher until it looked like I was going to be able to quit my day job in order to do this."
Maybe so, but even though his words have taken him far off campus and his style has made him a standard bearer for his genre, there's no doubt that Mr. Mali (who comes to Lawrence Academy as this school year's J. William Mees Visiting Scholar) has never quit teaching.
"I never would have left teaching unless poetry had dragged me out of the classroom," continued Mali, a four-time National Poetry Slam champion and the author of two collections of poetry and, most recently, a book of essays entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World.
"I never would have stayed a poet unless there was a great amount of teaching that I get to do in the service of poetry," added Mali, whose teaching style is, like his poetry, "performative" and owes much to his training as an actor.
However, it's also clear that Mali's chosen career, his involvement in the poetry slam movement and his personal philosophy work together to create a dynamic educational environment that challenges idleness, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional.
To that end, Mali told LA students that the audience has, for far too long, been ignored.
"Horace was a Latin poet who wrote over 2,000 years ago that the task of the poet was to either instruct or entertain and that the best poets do both at the same time," said Mali. "Luckily, teaching is also about instruction or entertainment.
"So, I never really have to decide between teaching and poetry, because both of them are the same for me."
Taylor Mali will visit with students and teachers for poetry workshops during classes on February 11 and 12. The public is invited to his closing presentation in the school’s *Richardson-Mees Performing Arts Center* on the evening of February 12 at 7:30. All are welcome to attend and to meet with the poet over refreshments after the program. Visitors should park in the Academy Drive lot off of Route 40 behind the RMPAC.