Totally like whatever, you know?
By Taylor Mali
In case you hadn't noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you're talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you're saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)'s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren't, like, questions? You know?
Declarative sentences - so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not -
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don't think I'm uncool just because I've noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It's like what I've heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I'm just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?
What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we've just gotten to the point where it's just, like . . .
And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!
I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.
I first met Taylor Mali at the 2001 National Poetry Slam in Seattle. I, like many other beginning slam poets, had first seen him in the documentary "Slam Nation." Team Flagstaff had a rented minivan, a Kia Sedona oddly enough, which we had taken to Seattle. I saw Mali on the sidewalk at the hotel getting ready to head to a venue to host a slam. I offered him a lift, along with a few of our poets and we rode down to the venue.
I saw him later during one of the many NPS slam parties at the hotel. I wandered into a hotel room with a dozen or so slam poets drinking, smoking cigarettes and hanging out. That year, I carried a backpack with handles of rum, vodka, tequila and two bottles of wine, refilling poets' glasses whenever needed. I think a number of poets probably fell off the wagon that week thanks to me.
I wandered in, refilled some drinks, poured myself and sat down on a heavily occupied bed filled with chatting poets. On the other bed, I looked up to see Daphne Gottlieb and Mali's then-girlfriend Marty McConnell making out. I then found Mali sitting next to me. He recognized me, passed a bottle of wine to me, looked at the other bed and said, "I love Nationals."
Mali is one of the major figures in poetry slam. His skill on the stage and in strategy is legendary. He is a consummate professional and a polished performer.
Slamming against him or on his team would be awesome, but I rather have a choice team of four slammers face off against four of his and strategize against him toe-to-toe.
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).