"Performative" Poetry (& Teaching)
Posted 02/11/2013 10:52AM
Taylor Mali speaks to LA students.

LA Community Inspired by Mali
Even before his arrival, Taylor Mali was well known on the Lawrence Academy Campus.
Becca Gilbert '12, now a college freshman, won the 2011 Judith French Junior Poetry Recitation Competition for her recitation of one of Mali's poems.
“I've always enjoyed Taylor Mali's work,” said Becca via e-mail. “His sister is actually my next-door neighbor, so ‘Taylor Mali’ has been a household name for some time. My older sister turned me onto his work and gave me one of his books to read through. The moment I read 'Totally Like Whatever, You Know?' I knew it was the one just because I could see myself performing it.
“I am so glad Lawrence Academy had the opportunity to welcome Taylor Mali. Although I wish I had been there, I hope others were as inspired as I was—and still am—by him.”
Clearly, many people in the LA community are inspired by Mali through his words and his work.
“Mr. Mali was an amazing visitor to have come to LA, and I really enjoyed going to his workshop,” said Connor Melvin '15. “We talked about poetry, and how it doesn't have to be something hard to understand.”
After sitting down to breakfast with the poet on Monday morning, James Lawrence '13 introduced Mr. Mali to the student assembly.
“He's everything you expect of an educator, in terms of having good ideas and outlining them clearly, but he's also all around a charismatic guy,” said James. “He's so amicable that you come away feeling less like you have had a short conversation with 'Mr. Mali' and more like you've just had a conversation with 'Taylor'.
“He's exactly what you'd hope someone who works with words for a living would be.”
“He’s a really engaging speaker,” agreed Salyna Anza '14. “He’s fun to listen to, he’s entertaining, and he got everyone to participate. He also created a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere in the room.”
Roan Callahan seemed to speak for all of his fellow students after attending the morning assembly and workshop.
“I was very happy that the school provided this opportunity for me, and my classmates,” he said. “I've always been a big fan of his poetry and it was really amazing to see him in person.”

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.