World-renowned poet Taylor Mali is funny, witty and has his dream job now. Rising from the slam poetry movement, he travels across the globe inspiring and entertaining audiences with his words, showcasing the art form that poetry truly is.
Mali performed at Quinnipiac last Thursday in a slam poetry event co-sponsored by the Student Programming Board and the English department.
“SPB chose to do this event because one of our goals is to collaborate more with other departments and organizations on campus,” said Jessica Goggi, SPB’s arts and entertainment chair. “When English professor Ken Cormier asked me if I would be willing to bring slam poet Taylor Mali to campus, SPB was extremely excited because we have never brought a slam poet to QU.”
Goggi said more than 100 people were in attendance — an impressive audience, considering Spike Lee’s lecture had been rescheduled for the same night. However, she said she was pleased with the turnout and the overall event.
“Taylor was an amazing, passionate performer, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the show,” Goggi said.
Cormier spoke very highly of Mali, dubbing him “one of the greatest poets of our time” in his introduction.
“Mali’s poems are carefully crafted, and his performance is so dynamic that the audience can’t help but be swept up in what they see and hear,” Cormier said.
Before Mali delivered his motivational words, Quinnipiac’s own Zachary Connolly, a sophomore, opened the show with two of his original poems. Connolly said Mali had been “nothing short of an inspiration” since his high school years. Now Connolly coaches the New Jersey Youth S.L.A.M. Team and teaches writing workshops throughout New Jersey.
“It’s all about freeing yourself to be poetic,” Connolly said. “Everyone can be poetic. So few people ever realize it and fewer still do it.”
His opening line: “I get girls.”
The end of the poem wasn’t exactly what you’d expect with a beginning like that. What appeared to be an overly-confident anecdote about reeling in women soon turned into a humble message about treating them with respect.
Mali took the stage next, opening with his poem about how teachers are “miracle workers.” Then followed poems like “The Naked Gardener,” for his wife, and “Holding Your Position,” saying “This is probably the dirtiest poem I’ve ever written … It’s not what you think.”
Each poem he recited was descriptive and vivid, and the stories Mali told were unbelievable. Whether he talked about his wife, former students, or even his fantasy about a girl he liked when he was younger, the audience remained captivated. His stage presence was spectacular.
Mali seemed like a natural, probably because of his years of experience as a teacher and his ability to incorporate real-life stories into his work.
“It comes organically,” Mali said. “I look for lessons in observations.”
Coming from an artistic family and receiving inspiration from teachers he called “truly outstanding,” Mali said he merely gives meaning to what he sees.
One of his poems, “Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog,” has been read at more than 200 weddings.
Cormier said his favorite poem of Mali’s is “Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh-Grade Viking Warrior,” about a 13-year-old boy he taught who endured chemotherapy.
“The poem is absolutely riveting, and while Mali performed it, you could sense that the audience was holding its breath,” Cormier said. “In contrast to many of Mali’s other works, this poem is devastatingly sad, and people who had been laughing raucously only minutes earlier found themselves literally weeping in their seats.”
The only downfall is that Mali’s poems don’t have the same effect when read from a book or on the computer. To truly experience his genius, you must be in his presence, watch his emotion, and witness the drama he injects into every word he speaks.
“Mali is the kind of poet who brings language to life,” Cormier said. “And he can make a believer out of even the most skeptical audience members.”
For more information about Mali and to read his poetry, visit www.taylormali.com. For those interested in more poetry and creative writing events, the QU English department’s Student Writers Series will be held this Friday at 6 p.m. in the Upper Café.
Photo credit: Amanda Shulman