Totally, Like, Whatever

I am in love with Taylor Mali.

This man is an extraordinary teacher and an award winning Slam poet. The passion that comes through in his voice literally brings tears to my eyes. He GETS it, and he wants us to get it, too.

This morning, my public speaking students are going to listen to this poem. I can teach them techniques for overcoming their anxiety and I can teach them how to outline their ideas and make notes and I can teach them to put together a visual presentation, but I don’t think I can teach them to be passionate about what they’re saying; how to care about things enough to put out the effort to try to convince others that it’s important. The best I can do, really, is to try to infect them with my own passion, and to expose them to people who embody passionate discourse.

Talor Mali is an example of a man who embodies passion, and I invite you to read and listen, and see if you’re not inspired by the last words.

Totally like whatever, you know?

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.



© Taylor Mali 2005



Filed under admiration, Poetry, Teaching

18 responses to “Totally, Like, Whatever

  1. Pingback: Busy Day « Blue Door

  2. I love Taylor Mali. He is a great example of someone who can speak with passion without sounding like a ranting lunatic!

  3. This feature where the intonation rises at the end of the utterance is called uptalk. Apparently the President uses it

  4. He’s just plain amazing!

  5. I’m copying an pasting that poem. I think I might even have it laminated as a poster to put in my room. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  6. “it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
    You have to speak with it, too.”

    Is a bumper sticker waiting to happen. Love it.

    A friend of mine works for a not-for-profit that helps students & teachers use technology to expand and enhance their curriculum. She has turned into the go to poetry unit chick because she gets fabulous results. I can’t wait to share this poem with her, though I suspect she already knows this poet. I think she’s going to love it.

  7. Do me a favor, Kizz, if you would: if it turns out that, in a sort of “six degrees of Taylor Mali” thing, it turns out that you know him (or, rather, you know someone who knows someone who knows him), would you try to pull some strings to set me up? I would love to be able to have a little more access to this guy – and to his recommendations for classroom materials and strategies…

  8. “Uptalk,” huh? Thanks, John!

  9. Sue

    This is amazing! I had never heard him before, but will certainly look for more. I’ve already incorporated this as the first assignment in my Arg. and Debate class – perfect answer for all those eye-rollers who think the class is so nerdy and also a rallying cry for those of us who love it!

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Chili (and everyone),

    You should check out the IndieFeed podcast for Performance Poetry. Taylor Mali is doing some guest hosting on there, which is really insightful. Also, its a great place to hear some amazing poetry in many mediums.

  11. Yes, you have to listen to him! His voice is great, and compared to the written version – leaps and bounds better.

  12. chattybtawkin

    That is a fabulous poem and I am going to have it laminated for my room as well. I loved listening to him recite it as well.

  13. I played the poem for both of my public speaking classes yesterday and, in each of them, nearly every head was nodding. They are AWARE that they lack conviction. They KNOW that they are inarticulate. They REALIZE that they speak in interrogative and are either too lazy – or too scared – to form an opinion about something. Agency is something with which this generation of students is not familiar, it seems.

  14. Clix

    I dunno, though. I really like that poem – there are some awesome vids on YouTube – but I’m always left thinking, “but what if you’re not an authority?” (You know? – hee!)

    Sometimes I have students who DO speak with authority… and… well… sadly, they’re just full of it! *laugh*

    I think the problem, in many cases, is actually WORSE than what Mr. Mali presents: the reason for “disarticulation-ness” is not just that a person is unwilling to take a definitive stance, but that the person has no idea what s/he is talking about, and THAT is the reason s/he can’t explain it well.

    Okay, now I’m starting to depress myself… Imma go have some ice cream! (And THAT is something about which I can speak with authority.) 😀

  15. My dad would love that poem. He would always make fun of my sister and me whenever we said “like,” so now I always become self conscious whenever it creeps into my vocabulary.

  16. TeacherA, for me, it’s “you know?” I get it from my adopted mother, who says it ALL THE TIME. I’m trying to NOT say it – to be conscious of what I’m saying and to keep from uttering that meaningless phrase – but it’s insidious!

  17. Pingback: I Love My Job « A Teacher’s Education

  18. Great post!

    I’ve enjoyed reading the poem.

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