The art of performance poetry is coming to Graded

In your English class, you’re most likely starting to look at different poems from iconic poets like Whitman, Dickinson, and Plath. Your teacher has perhaps been making you analyze and then (heavily) annotate poems by William Carlos Williams, whom she may affectionately refer to as “WCW.” Or maybe she is forcing you to delve head first into bemusing Beat imagery from writers like Ginsberg and Burroughs. You’ve heard the name E. E. Cummings so many times you start to wonder why anyone would possibly choose the moniker “E. E.” even if it’s an abbreviation for his name. Perhaps you’ve also stared for countless hours into the soul of Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” feeling an inordinate influx of varying reactions and fleeting emotions with every read. You’ve learned that when Ms. Angelou refers to a “caged bird,” she doesn’t just mean a “caged bird.”

However, what you may not have learned or heard about yet in English class is that Graded will be welcoming a famous poet to campus this semester: Taylor Mali. A renowned slam poet, he’s known for his many appearances in the United States’s National Poetry Slam, four of which he won with his team. He’s also well known for his popular Youtube videos where he recites some original work as part of various poetry slams, conferences, and even university seminars.

As an avid fan of his, I’m barely able to contain my excitement. It will be a great opportunity to hear, speak with, and learn from such an incredible poet and, most importantly, teacher. He actually used to teach in a classroom environment, from which he has now transitioned to the stage. However, he is still teaching on a global platform through his performances,  gradually reaching more people as he gains thousands of fans and views on Youtube.

Now, when you’re expected to start cramming random verses, memorizing gesticulations, and determining poetic fluency, don’t expect to be performing a poem written by him or any other spoken-word poets. The English department follows the Poetry Out Loud model, with an emphasis on recitation rather than performance. That said, you can always retain something from watching incredible spoken-word poetry, such as advice on articulation or tips on choosing where to pause. Sitting down and watching a couple of these poems can exponentially benefit students learning about the subject.

With spoken word, a poet can address, express, synthesize, satirize, ruminate, and investigate freely and eloquently. Spoken-word poetry has been used by equality advocates and social reformers to broach issues deemed too polemic for public recognition. Some poets have used it to talk about their lives and experiences through certain lenses, offering unfathomable perspectives and making mind-blowing observations on the day-to-day. As in any other artistic movement, there are numerous spoken-word junkies who have nothing particular to say, but want to be heard for the sake of it. But, different from many movements where people are shunned or sidelined for sharing their thoughts, spoken-word poetry encourages and inspires people to speak up about the world around them.

To help you get into the poetic vibe for Taylor Mali’s arrival and the poetry recitation, here are a couple of my favorite spoken-word poems, including some by Mr. Mali himself:

The Impotence of Proofreading – Taylor Mali

If I Should Have a Daughter – Sarah Kay

The Worst Thing I Ever Taught My Girl – Megan Falley

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate – Suli Breaks

Any Language, Much Less English – Taylor Mali  

Worst Poetry – Sarah Kay