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An evening with Taylor Mali

They say a picture can paint a thousand words, but I saw vivid, colorful, live pictures painted with the words that Taylor Mali spoke on stage last evening. I had not heard of Spoken Word poetry (until a few months back when I accidentally heard a performer on TEDTalk) and not at all of Taylor Mali until the school sent a mailer saying that they had invited him to perform. A link on Youtube, that showed him reciting one of his poems, had me hooked to the man from the word go.

The poet, Taylor Mali

Last evening, I saw him sitting in one corner of the auditorium where he was to perform, quietly reflecting on what poetry he will read out or recite for the evening. As always, the urge to tell a good performer that he was good, overwhelmed me and I marched right up to him and told him that. I confessed that I had never heard of him before the school talked about him and he quickly said – “Don’t worry about that, I had never heard about you up until now, myself!” That comment from him immediately put me at ease and I relaxed. I told him how I have repeatedly listened and shared one of his poems in the last few weeks and how I could relate so well with it because I had a child who was a living example of the younger generation that his poem described. He surprised me when he offered to dedicate the poem to Akanksha! And he did.

Here is the poem that Taylor dedicated.

I loved the poetry recital. I picked a copy of his collections that I had him autograph for me. What I also have done, the morning after, is drawn some conclusions about the man, who I had barely even known until recently, with the observations I made.

Taylor Mali had a happy childhood. He recalled how both his parents read aloud to him and how his love for the spoken word began that early.

Taylor Mali loves to teach. Most of his poetry is about classroom, children, middle school, what children know, what they want and how they behave in class.

Taylor Mali cares. I was moved to tears when he recited the poem about this 12 year old boy who had made the best Viking ship for humanities class, whose cancer was later diagnosed and how the boys in his class had all shaved their heads to show solidarity to the boy going through chemotherapy, when he came to visit them.

Taylor Mali loves Dogs – His love for dogs is obvious which makes him a nicer person somehow! He says, to him love is like a bounding dog, peace is listening to a distant dog bark and his poem Bodhisatva, about a three legged dog is so moving. It is impossible to not enjoy his clever use of words related to the subject that also would otherwise be looked upon as profanity. (For example Bodhi, the dog saying to the girl doggies, “What are you looking at, bitch? “ )

Taylor Mali uses a lot of pun and double entendre. All poets must do. One of his poems described his nights at home with his wife. He talked about drought when referring to his wife who preferred to kiss and drift off to sleep every night; instead of seeking the warmth of his body. But one morning he woke up to rain he said; with an unmistakable twinkle in his eye.

Taylor has a terrific sense of humor. The Naked Gardner, one of his poems about his wife who stripped for her shower but decided to stay out in the garden to water the plants was so cleverly funny. When she handed over a cactus plant that was dying and asked him to throw it away for her, he said, he would do anything for her – Paved the pathway in the garden, learnt Latin, anything she wanted-  if she only stripped and asked him to. He only hoped the mail man didn’t show up and fell in love with her ‘goodies’.

Dedicated to all the teachers of the World!

Taylor Mali maybe sad. I wonder if happy people have a dark side to their lives, like it is believed. Last night, I thought I had a glimpse of the dark side of Mali’s life, when Taylor talked of his first wife who shunned a red sports car they first owned because it was too peppy for her to drive and when he hoped that his current wife, “feels beautiful inside someday, the way he sees her” or the time when he talked about the rain after the drought, you get a feeling that he probably has a dark unhappy side to his life too.

Taylor Mali was funny, intense, sharp, witty and comical. And the evening was well spent.


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