Guest post by Taylor Mali!
The first thing I notice about this performance from 1996—when I was 31 years old—is that I move way too much. All that bouncing and flouncing and giggling around! Some might be explained away by greater internal stores of youthful energy, but what I recognize is someone who is trying to hide his jitters with excessive movement. Notice how I never stand with my body fully facing the audience; always I am at an angle. That’s a nervous habit that I have pointed out in hundreds of students since then, so it’s refreshing to see that I was guilty of the same back then.
As for the poem, which was already six years old by then, it was the first of a series of “parody poems” I have written that got me into a lot of trouble. I mock poets in general and specific poets in particular to throw them off their game, to make them worry about other things besides the best poem to send up in the slam. Notice how when I say, “I know what I’m talking about and you should too,” I thump my chest and make some gestures with my hand and the audience laughs for no apparent reason. What you need to know is that Bill MacMillan, my teammate that year, had done a wonderful poem that was entirely in a kind of sign language. My little maneuver probably got me a couple extra dimes from the judges because they thought, “This guy isn’t afraid to use his poetry to jab other poets!”
Lastly, I specifically remember screaming at a camera in the front row on the side. I had no idea who was filming or for what purpose. In my head I thought, “This will make great footage for someone somewhere even though I will never see it.” Turns out I was only half right.
And check out Taylor Mali here!