PUTNEY -- Taylor Mali walked away from the greatest job in the world.
The author of "What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World," Mali was on education’s frontlines as a middle school teacher for nine years. But he left that gig to pursue a career as a poet, slam poet, writer and performer 13 years ago and has no regrets Š sort of.
"I miss teaching every day. I miss the difference I used to make every day in the classroom," said Mali.
These days, Mali is making a difference in other ways, harnessing what he describes as "the power of the right words in the right order" to support teachers, advocate for resources for education and inspire new people to the profession. He also manages to get himself in front of students often enough, teaching writing and poetry workshops throughout the country.
"I still am teaching. It’s just a different sort of classroom," Mali said.
On Friday, Mali makes a return to Putney, where he wowed audiences at Next Stage two years ago. This time, he’ll be performing at the Currier Center at The Putney School at 7:30 p.m. The performance is a benefit for the Next Stage Arts Project.
"I’m just a poet who was once a teacher who writes a lot about teaching. I’m really just the ‘Word Guy,’" said Mali.
But few "word guys" can place and deliver those words with the same impact Mali can. Since leaving the middle school classroom 13 years ago, Mali has fused poetry, writing, teaching and performance. He was one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry" and is one of the best-known slam poets in the world, having won the national championship four times. He is the author of several books, including two volumes of poetry -- "The Time As We Are" (2009) and "What Learning Leaves" (2002). He received a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant in 2001 to develop "Teacher! Teacher!," a one-man show about poetry, teaching and math, which won the jury prize for the best solo performance at the 2001 Comedy Arts Festival. He is also the former president of Poetry Slam, Inc.
Clearly, he has something to say, especially about education, but Mali is equally attuned to the archaic role poets played as entertainers.
"I’m there to commiserate. I’m there to distract. I’m not particularly a political poet," said Mali, pointing out that ancient Roman poet Horace said a poet’s job was either to delight or instruct. "If I can’t do both, I want to be merely entertaining and delightful."
Count on it.
Tickets to Friday’s performance are $20 general, $18 for students and seniors and are available at www.nextstagearts.org. For more information, contact Next Stage Arts at 802-387-0102. The performance is sponsored in part by the Vermont Humanities Council.