A poem so new it has yet to be written down! Give it a listen if you have a fast connection.
Metaphorically yours,Taylor P.S. Sent from the road so forgive odd spellings & apparent curtness.
I did a freebie gig at a middle school in Harlem today, and it was very challenging. There were only about 20 students in the class—sixth, seventh, and eighth graders all together—with almost as many City Year corp members in the room as well (college graduates who give a year of their time to work with inner city youth) so you’d think a veteran like me would find that easy, right? Wrong. The majority of the students have very poor listening skills, and they talked and hit each other throughout the entire class. One girl in the front row spent the entire time playing games on her phone! Why did I put up with it? Aren’t I to blame by allowing that kind of behavior to pass as acceptable? Well, sure. But I was a visitor to their classroom and there to talk about poetry. Didn’t seem right to be all Mr. Behavior Cop. Many would have just shut me out completely after that. So I just did my best, using every trick I remembered. I was loud when they were quiet and quiet when they were loud. They told each other to be quiet so as not to miss what I was saying (except that telling each other to be quiet invariably involved yelling and hitting each other, which never worked). They interrupted my poems when I used words they didn’t know, which is fine by me, except one of the words was “smugly.” I guess the student thought it was a mixture of “smart” and “ugly”? When I gave them time to write quietly, it was hard for them to do either. Half the class preferred to write with big colorful markers instead of pens. There were more than a few pretty pictures of flowers. When I asked them to please work on what I had asked them to do, no one ever remembered what that was. When the girl in the front row blatantly tried to show her neighbor, who was trying to work, something on her phone, I had to stop and tell her I found her behavior insulting to me. No big thing. She actually got better after that. In the end, I thought I had HORRIBLE control over the class. But of all the poet/teachers I know, I can only think of two or three who might have done any better with that group. Surprisingly, when the kids were gone and it was just me and the City Year corp members, they all said they were amazed at how well behaved the class was! “You got them to work! To participate! It was amazing to see them respond to you! I was trying to take notes on all the techniques you used!” A little perspective goes a long way.
. . . not only is Montana drop dead beautiful, it’s one of the three remaining states in which I have never performed! After this, I’ll have only Hawaii (which I’ll hit in January) and South Dakota (where they must hate me) left. Allen Ginsberg finally got all 50 when he read in Alaska toward the end of his life; the second time I read in Anchorage, someone there said they had heard him mention that. Anyway, if you know any poetry lovers or teachers (or teacher lovers!) in Missoula, let them know that I’m coming!
Teacher poet Taylor Mali is coming to Missoula in two weeks!