Melody Dalili has been writing poems for years, but she didn’t begin reciting them publicly until a spoken-word performance last August. Since then, the Farragut High School junior has gotten several opportunities to perform her work, and this month her literary journey led to a groundbreaking honor – recognition as the city of Knoxville’s first Youth Poet Laureate.
Dalili has always loved poetry and has a collection on her phone with more than 250 poems, beginning with pieces that she wrote in the third grade. Her first? A poem about two rabbits who were in love. She credited two sources with boosting her confidence as a writer: co-workers and leaders at The Muse, where she works, and Elizabeth Toth, her advanced creative writing teacher at FHS.
Dalili said she began performing after her manager at the Muse introduced her to an organizer of the SEEED Knoxville poetry slam, who invited her to participate in that event. “I was like, ‘No, I love poetry but I would never say it out loud.’ And they said ‘Why don’t you just give it a shot?’”
That performance was last August, and it led to other spoken-word opportunities in the months since. At the same time, Dalili took Toth’s advanced creative writing class last year, and said the ELA teacher has been a constant support by attending her events, helping her craft a speech and staying after school to prepare for the Youth Poet Laureate competition.
“Being a teacher and really making that extra effort for one of your kids was a huge part in my journey here,” she said.
Toth said Dalili’s work is insightful and creative, and that when given a writing prompt during class, she would often ask if she could complete the assignment in poetry.
“She is definitely immensely talented, she really draws from her own personal experience and her own feelings about people that are important to her and that have shaped her life,” Toth said.
Earlier this month, Dalili and Knoxville Poet Laureate Rhea Carmon shared a poem as part of Mayor Kincannon’s budget address, the first of many appearances she will make as a literary ambassador for the city.
Asked why she loves poetry, Dalili said it is a universal language: “Poetry is just something with its arms wide open, and it’s just waiting for people to come in and join and to be united through our language. I really think that it’s just such a privilege to be able to be a part of that and to commemorate that in what I’m doing.”
Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes the blog Hall Pass for the KCS website.