This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Like Lilly Like Wilson" by Taylor Mali



I just spent Tuesday teaching poetry in Terrin Musbach's English and theater classes at Mohave High School in Bullhead City, thanks to an in with teacher and poet Mikel Weisser. Students ranged in age between 14 and 18, so Taylor Mali's famous slam poem, "Like Lilly Like Wilson" holds a particular resonance for me right nownot because of the use of filler words, but because of the lines, "And the eighth-grade mind is a beautiful thing / Like a new-born baby's face, you can often see it / change before your very eyes."

This poem carries similar elements as another Mali poem, "Totally like whatever, you know?"

As a standalone poem, its strength comes in using an everyday situation as a narrative to demonstrate the power of teaching someone a new way of thinking, essentially a transformation poem. The use of humor keeps the audience interested while the narrative structure allows the poet to teach the audience the same bit of knowledge vicariously through the vehicle of Lilly Wilson.

Like Lilly Like Wilson
By Taylor Mali


I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly Wilson, the recovering like addict,
the worst I've ever seen.
So, like, bad the whole eighth grade
started calling her Like Lilly Like Wilson Like.
Until I declared my classroom a Like-Free Zone,
and she could not speak for days.

But when she finally did, it was to say,
Mr. Mali, this is . . . so hard.
Now I have to think before I . . . say anything.

Imagine that, Lilly.

It's for your own good.
Even if you don't like . . .
it.

I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Lilly Wilson at my office door.
Lilly is writing a research paper for me
about how homosexuals shouldn't be allowed
to adopt children.
I'm writing the poem that will change the world,
and it's Like Lilly Like Wilson at my office door.

She's having trouble finding sources,
which is to say, ones that back her up.
They all argue in favor of what I thought I was against.

And it took four years of college,
three years of graduate school,
and every incidental teaching experience I have ever had
to let out only,

Well, that's a real interesting problem, Lilly.
But what do you propose to do about it?
That's what I want to know.

And the eighth-grade mind is a beautiful thing;
Like a new-born baby's face, you can often see it
change before your very eyes.

I can't believe I'm saying this, Mr. Mali,
but I think I'd like to switch sides.

And I want to tell her to do more than just believe it,
but to enjoy it!
That changing your mind is one of the best ways
of finding out whether or not you still have one.
Or even that minds are like parachutes,
that it doesn't matter what you pack
them with so long as they open
at the right time.
O God, Lilly, I want to say
you make me feel like a teacher,
and who could ask to feel more than that?
I want to say all this but manage only,
Lilly, I am like so impressed with you!

So I finally taught somebody something,
namely, how to change her mind.
And learned in the process that if I ever change the world
it's going to be one eighth grader at a time.


Taylor Mali is one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement and one of the few people in the world to have no job other than that of poet. Eloquent, accessible, passionate, and often downright hilarious, Mali studied drama in Oxford with members of The Royal Shakespeare Company and puts those skills of presentation to work in all his performances. He was one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and was the "Armani-clad villain" of Paul Devlin's 1997 documentary film SlamNation.

Born in New York City into a family some of whose members have lived there since the early 1600s, Taylor Mali is an unapologetic WASP, making him a rare entity in spoken word, which is often considered to be an art form influenced by the inner city and dominated either by poets of color or those otherwise imbued with the spirit of hip-hop.

Mali is a vocal advocate of teachers and the nobility of teaching, having himself spent nine years in the classroom teaching everything from English and history to math and S.A.T. test preparation. He has performed and lectured for teachers all over the world, and his New Teacher Project has a goal of creating 1,000 new teachers through "poetry, persuasion, and perseverance."

He is the author of two books of poetry, The Last Time As We Are (Write Bloody Books 2009) and What Learning Leaves (Hanover 2002), and four CDs of spoken word. He received a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant in 2001 to develop Teacher! Teacher! a one-man show about poetry, teaching, and math which won the jury prize for best solo performance at the 2001 Comedy Arts Festival.

Formerly president of Poetry Slam, Inc., the non-profit organization that oversees all poetry slams in North America, Taylor Mali makes his living entirely as a spoken-word and voiceover artist these days, traveling around the country performing and teaching workshops as well as doing occasional commercial voiceover work. He has narrated several books on tape, including The Great Fire (for which he won the Golden Earphones Award for children's narration).

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