Well-known poet and former classroom teacher Taylor Mali used humorous, and
Well-known poet and teacher advocate recently performed a variety of his poetry to more than 200 people at the Black Hills State University Meier Recital Hall. 
sometimes dramatic, verse to tell the story of his life and appreciation of educators to more than 200 people at the Black Hills State University Meier Recital Hall.

“When I sit down to write … I try to write honestly, musically, and artfully,” said Mali.

Mali’s performance was part of the Madeline A. Young Distinguished Speaker Series. The series was established in 1986 by a gift endowment from Madeline Young, a 1924 alumna. Young encouraged the University to host controversial, stimulating, andenlivening speakers.

“(Madeline Young) believed a college campus should be a place where we are challenged and put out of our comfort zone,” said BHSU President Kay Schallenkamp. Mali embodies that thought, she said in her introduction of the poet.

Mali performance of his teaching-inspired poems including “Undivided Attention” and “Like Lilly Like Wilson," struck a chord with the educators who burst out in laughter. Mali also showed a more serious side reciting a poem about his recent divorce from his second wife and his first wife’s death.

Mali said he subscribes to the philosophy of one of his mentors Billy Collins, an American poet and U.S. Poet Laureate, who said you get the best poems when you give yourself the permission to write about the things you never thought you should tell anyone.

“I write for the ear first,” he said. Sometimes when performing a poem, the audience will start clapping before the last line, an indication that he may want to rework the last part of his poem. “Performance is all part of the editing process.”

Mali was born in New York City in 1965. He learned at an early age that words have power. In graduate school, he became interested in and eventually president of Poetry Slam, Inc., the non-profit organization that oversees all poetry slams in North America. Mali also spent nine years teaching a variety of subjects including English, history, math, and S.A.T. test preparation. At the end of those nine years, he decided to follow his passion and pursue teaching and poetry on a global scale.

Mali has been on seven National Poetry Slam teams, six appearing on the finals stage and four championship wins. He also recently completed a 12-year project which helped create 1,000 new teachers through “poetry, persuasion, and perseverance.”

“I left the regular classroom 12 years ago, but I am still teaching. I feel in moments like this I get to teach through the word,” he said.