Students filled the Hub Wednesday, Feb. 2, to see spoken word artist Saul Williams perform, brought to you by the A.S. Program Board.
Williams began by telling the audience the evening could be “more of a dialogue.” He then hopped off the stage and paced in front of the first row, performing his poem without a mic.
Though it was difficult for some to hear and see from the back of the space, the effect was still astounding. Williams made the performance much more intimate by coming down to the audience’s level. His casual air throughout the performance made the entire crowd feel special, as if each of person was talking to him one-on-one instead of listening in a packed venue.
His first poem, “Untimely Meditations” touched on some of his frequent motifs like cosmology, meditation and time.
When asked why his 14-year-old daughter’s name is Saturn, Williams answered that she was born at a time when he was very interested in the planets and creating a new cosmology for himself. In his mind, Saturn was the birthplace of creativity and the imagination.
During the question-and-answer sessions that made up the breaks between his poems, Williams also explained the important effects practices like meditation can have on the body.
“It’s amazing what 10 or 15 deep breaths a day can do,” Williams said.
However, even when being a lofty, sagacious genius, Williams did not lose his audience. The artist — who studied drama and philosophy in college — easily brought himself back down to earth by making jokes about himself and audience members.
This seemed to really resonate with people, making it easier to keep up with the elevated language and abstract ideas Williams utilizes in his poems. His attitude was self-effacing and direct, as he concluded his second poem and said, “Now, let me make sense of that poem for you.”
He explained at times he feels more like a vessel through which art comes to the world — especially with his book The Dead Emcee Scrolls: the Lost Teachings of Hip Hop — than the actual author of the work and that he often comes to understand a piece the more he recites it.
“I don’t really feel like the author of everything that comes through. Sometimes I’m an audience member, too,” Williams said.
Although his segues were as interesting to listen to as his actual poetry, it was the poetry people came to hear, and they were not disappointed. People were mouthing along during pieces like “Coded Language,” a favorite among his fans. The poem is a call to action, and a call for growth and the pursuit of knowledge, two other things Williams discussed in his Q&A.
Williams said that he did not truly believe in writer’s block. In his opinion, whatever someone experiences on a day-to-day basis contributes to their art.
“Your diet isn’t only what you eat,” Williams said. “There’s so much other shit to do. Why am I going to beat myself up about writing? Every kiss, every book I read, every film I see — it’s part of the process.”
Still, Williams shed his well-read persona for a minute to joke about the root of his interest in many of the figures he cites in “Coded Language.”
“Why do I know who the goddess Kali is?” Williams said. “Because I saw it tattooed on the back of some beautiful woman, like, ‘Who’s that [tattooed on your back]?’”
His poem, “Saturn’s Rivers,” dealt with more complex topics — birth, the future, etc. However, the language was so beautiful that even without catching every meaning, the audience was still engaged.
“She had hidden rooms in her womb/where I had seen screenings of her future/wrapped in swaddling clothes/and God knows I wanted to kiss it/but my lips were sealed by time,” William recites in the poem. Just be quiet and think about that for a while.
At the end of the night, Williams showed his musical talent by singing the song “Black Stacey,” from his 2004 self-titled album, a cappella. As enjoyable as that was, the poem he recited beforehand is still what stands out most.
Though anyone who has an interest in Saul Williams has probably heard his poem “Sha-Clack-Clack” a dozen times (and this includes me), it was the best piece of the night. It begins quietly, with a line that harks of “Saturn’s Rings”: “If I could find the spot where truth echoes/I would stand there and whisper memories of my children’s future.” Damn, Saul. Damn.
The energy in Williams’ voice, as well as that of the crowd, rose as the poem progressed and hit the line that is repeated several times throughout the piece: “I am and always will be/that nigga/I am that nigga/I am that nigga.”
“The more America tries to erase that word, the more I love that poem,” Williams reflected after finishing the piece.
Even thinking about it gives me chills. Saul Williams’ performance and discussion was one of the most memorable events in several years.
Saul is a master of his craft, as well as a scholar, sage, preacher, humorist, activist and engaging human being, and well worth seeing if you ever get the chance.