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Poetry Month: Totally Like Whatever {format} {format} 3:16 Taylor Mali

Speaking with conviction.

Broadcast: Apr 20 2005 on NPR Day to DaySeries: Poetry Month Subjects: Literature, Youth, Spoken Word

Profile: Taylor Mali performs "Totally Like Whatever"

April 20, 2005 from Day to Day

NOAH ADAMS, host: As a writer and English teacher, Taylor Mali understands the power of the written word. As a National Poetry Slam champion four times over, Taylor Mali revels in the power of the spoken word. Here is Taylor Mali on stage performing "Totally Like Whatever."

Mr. TAYLOR MALI (Four-Time National Poetry Slam Champion): In case you hadn't realized, it has somehow become uncool to sound like you know what you're talking about, you know, or believe strongly in what you're, you know, saying. Invisible question marks and parenthetical `you knows' and `you know what I'm sayings' have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences even when those sentences aren't, like, you know, questions.

Declarative sentences, so called because they used to, like, you know, declare things to be true, OK, as opposed to other things that are, like, totally, you know, not. They've been infected by this tragically cool and totally hip interrogative tone, you know, as if I'm saying, `Don't think I'm a nerd just because I've, like, noticed this, OK, you know. This is just what I've heard. I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions. I'm just, like, inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own 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, you know, or do we have, like, nothing to say? Has society just become so filled with these, like, conflicting feelings of nyeh-nyeh-nyeh that we've just gotten to the point where we're just, like, totally, you know, whatever? And actually, our disarticulationness is just a clever sort of a thing to disguise the fact that we've become the most aggressively inarticulate generation to come along since, you know, a long time ago.

I implore you, I entreat you and 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 gotta speak with it, too. Thank you.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

ADAMS: That is Taylor Mali. His poem is called "Totally Like Whatever." And thanks to our friends at for helping us celebrate National Poetry Month.

More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.