Jamming And Slamming

Don McIver
3 min read
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Pay attention.

As the host/producer of KUNM's “Spoken Word Hour,” I've heard more poetry/spoken word on CD than almost anyone I know. Almost every Sunday night since January of 2000, I've scanned through KUNM's library and my own collection and tried to put a show together that will keep people from turning off the radio at 11:30 p.m. Poetry is not background music; it demands that the listener stop doing things they might be able to do when listening to many kinds of music. This is not always easy. Too often, poets think just reading their poem into a microphone is enough to make a good, listenable track. So it was with anticipation and relief that I popped Taylor Mali's latest CD into the player.

In the spoken word and slam worlds, Taylor Mali is a household name. As a member of multiple national championship slam teams, Taylor has cultivated a reputation as a fearless competitor and seasoned professional when he steps up to the microphone. The CD, Conviction, is a collection of tracks recorded in venues around the country. By choosing to only include live tracks, it's easy to verify the delight and laughter audiences generate at a Taylor Mali show. He's witty, engaging, accessible and he's also touching. Perhaps the most moving track on the CD is “The Sole Bass.” Using a sampler, Taylor, with an audience in the background, sings and records the beginning parts of the Doxology that will form the background music for the poem as Taylor then talks over it. At the end of the poem, Taylor actually harmonizes with the sample and the effect is nothing short of moving.

This CD also highlights many poems that have made Taylor such a formidable presence in slam. Poems like “How to Write a Political Poem” and “Like Lily, Like Wilson” show his humor and disarming charm. Perhaps the strongest part of the CD is the order of the tracks. It is hard to listen to and concentrate on the same voice for about an hour. Aware of this, Taylor has chosen to include a smattering of group poems, and other, quite different, voices covering his poems, like John S. Hall and Noel Jones. This breaks up his solo voice quite nicely.

If you want a collection of poems that is designed to be listened to, I can think of no better place to start. If you want a collection of poems that highlight some of the best aspects of slam and performance poetry, Taylor's CD will show what has worked for him. Finally, if you want to be touched by the simplicity of words, a simple delivery and an accessibility that will make even someone not terribly appreciative of poetry take notice, Taylor Mali's Conviction is worth a listen.

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