Saturday, April 23, 2011

Taylor Mali

"I didn't come here to entertain you, I came to read a poem." Mali's bon mot summed up the controversy around his visit to Butler last month. Some in the English Department bristled at the notion behind this remark. "Poets ARE entertaining," they said. Knowing nothing about poetry, I've made a concerted effort to attend Butler's poetry readings. I have to admit that, for someone like me, with no understanding of the form, they're a mixed bag. Judging from the laughter Mali's remark engendered, I'd venture to say I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Mali delighted the crowd with performances of some of his most famous poems like "The The Impotence of Proofreading," "What Teachers Make," and "Like Lilly Like Wilson," along with lesser known works such as "Naked Gardener" and "Benediction." Mali also read "Lanyard," a poem by one of his favorite poets, Billy Collins. He relayed that Collins said his best poems come from giving himself permission to tell what he never thought he'd tell.

Mali began as a teacher and now is a slam poet. His poetry is fun and accessible. I imagine he's had people question whether or not his work actually qualifies as poetry. The moment from the reading that stayed with me was when he spoke to this unvoiced question. Mali said that poetry evolves, and that poems from one time period differ from those written in another. In fact, the definition of what poetry is is always changing.

When you pull out the thin silver bar on the side of Mali's souvenir pen a banner unfurls. One of Mali's poems is printed on one side of the banner. On the other side, around the jumbo letters that spell "SHUT UP," is an array of Scrabble-ready, two-letter words. Are poets boring? There may never be a consensus, but there's no argument that Taylor Mali's visit was unique and entertaining.

Check out Mali's hysterical poem on the youtube link below.

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