Rhyme and reason: How Iowa’s Miles Taylor went from poetry slams to slamming ballcarriers
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The hammer swings with a poet’s soul, a poet’s conscience. Of all the works hanging on the walls of Joseph Ross’ classroom at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., one particular piece of prose from Miles Taylor remains a favorite, the one he points out to new students, the bar and the bridge.
The poem is in the voice of a young black man riding the Metro in D.C., reflecting on what it feels like to watch women bring their children closer, clutch their bags tighter, just because they spot him nearby.
It’s ten lines, give or take, personal, and frank as hell. A heart spilled onto the page like the remains of an empty inkwell.
“What he can do in 10 lines, I only wish most of us could,” Ross, the Iowa safety’s English teacher at Gonzaga, told Landof10.com.
“He sets the scene. He tells the story. He breaks your heart in 10 lines. That’s not bad.”
Here to make a statement, to let everyone know, I’m not like everybody else.
— Miles Taylor (@milesandmiless) February 20, 2014
The first ever emcee in the Gonzaga Poets and Writers club, one of its early lights, wears No. 19 now, the backbone and backbeat to one of the top secondary groups in America. As a sophomore, the 6-foot Taylor collected 69 tackles, two-and-a-half for losses, a sack, a pick and four pass break-ups for the 2015 Big Ten West champions; hell from hash mark to hash mark.
But press him on his literary side, he demurs. Politely. The junior safety speaks about the poetry of his past the way Bruce Banner talks about the Hulk.
Another life. Another time. Another Miles.
“Maybe I could create something more, something with that, back when I was in high school,” Taylor offered with a smile. “In college, I haven’t had really that much time to appreciate it and do it as much as I would like to. But back in high school, I definitely did that. I kept a notebook.”
And it danced. Ross remembers being so impressed with Taylor’s work — the ideas, the flow, the fury — that he asked him, as a junior sitting in his American Literature Class, to emcee Gonzaga’s first on-campus poetry slam.
“I wasn’t really sure about it at first,” the Iowa safety recalled.
“But (they were) like, ‘It can help with your speaking skills and talking to a crowd,’ so I was like, ‘All right, I’ll do it.’ So I did it, actually enjoyed it, and then Kyle seemed to enjoy it, and he was the next step in line.”
Younger brother Kyle Taylor, a highly-touted linebacker at Gonzaga and a freshman hit stick with the Hawkeyes, picked up the flag after Miles moved to Iowa City. At a tender age when young writers spread their gossamer wings and start the great leap from the nest, the Taylors took their vector from the works of abolitionist icon Frederick Douglass and their grace from the sonnets of Walt Whitman.
Everything I’m not, made me everything I Am.
— Miles Taylor (@milesandmiless) January 30, 2014
“I love them both; I’d put my life in their hands,” Ross said of the Taylors. “They’re just great kids.
“If there were young students anxious about readings, (Miles) put them at ease. I wrote in a recommendation letter (to colleges), ‘Miles has the authority of kindness.’ He’s just a deeply kind young man.”
When the muse grabs you by the wrist, you don’t parse, you don’t qualify, you don’t argue. You just … fly.
“I have a passion for all types of things,” the elder Taylor explained. “World issues. Football, of course. Sports. Basketball. I love basketball. Baseball. Just anything that is on my head that day. I’m really passionate about a lot of things.”
People, mostly. And that angry young poet on the Metro has made a point to find the half-full side of this crazy, mixed-up, glass-half-empty universe.
The world view doesn’t change. Just the vantage point.
“I don’t see, to me, race being an issue,” Taylor said. “It is a big thing. But for me, you’ve got to find the good in all things. I think people really pull out the bad all the time. You’ve got pull out the good.
“The media focuses on the bad things. There are a lot of people that aren’t racists. You look at a lot of things — you could see the police reports, what happened with (teammate) Faith Ekakitie (and his encounter with the Iowa City police), they handled that really well. Just a lot of things like that, that you don’t really see behind the scenes. That’s what really I’d like to focus on and what people should focus on.”
thoughts leaving footprints in my mind
— Miles Taylor (@milesandmiless) February 14, 2014
Like heels in wet sand. Taylor doesn’t run to the notebook anymore, but he never stopped taking mental notes, never stopped tracing the footsteps of the greats, step by step, line after line.
“Langston Hughes,” the Hawkeye safety said. “Ralph Waldo Emerson …”
“E.E. Cummings, Joseph Ross …”
Signposts for the spirit. Polaris for the psyche.
“Miles is a soft-spoken guy,” Ross said. “He’s on the quiet side. But when it comes to things that he cares deeply about, he’s very committed. Very clear. He knows how to say what he wants to say.”
I don’t care if you speak poorly or speak highly of me. Have my head on straight for greatness and nothing/nobody will stop me.
— Miles Taylor (@milesandmiless) February 16, 2014
“They go together,” Taylor said, turning the black helmet in his hands, its bruises and scratches reflecting the afternoon sun. “Because you can kind of synchronize them together, if you want to. For me, I just kind of keep my football stuff here and my other stuff there.”
He smiled again. Second verse, same as the first.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler