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Saul Williams played to a jubilant and diverse crowd at London's Hoxton Bar Kitchen, Jan 26th, 2011. The show had been sold out for sometime and the resulting sardine syndrome shellacked the atrium as Saul went through new album 'Volcanic Sunlight' sprinkled with poems past. Below is the resulting video we made.
We asked Saul what he thought the point of poetry was. Before admitting he was speaking 'extemporaneously' he went on at some length musing over well…..the muse: "I'm making this up, I have no fucking idea but here we go, I think that it would be to express, to share, to relieve, to explore", "for me poetry offers some what of a cathartic experience. I am able to move through emotions and emotional experience particularly, you know, break-ups, difficulties in all the things that I may face, whether that is with an industry or a loved one or whomever, there needs to be an infiltration process, like you have a window open over there. That is the purpose of poetry - it is the window that opens that allows some air in, some other insight, some other possibility so we can explore all that we feel, all that we think but with the space to see more than what we know, because there is so much more than we know.", "If I didn't open myself to the possibilities of the unknown then I would be lost."
English romantic William Wordsworth described successful poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" but confesses this must be undertaken by a man "possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply" (Saul Williams it seems owns this sensitivity and time of mind devoted).  Another romantic John Keats describes poetry's ability to reflect a universal idea: 
"Beauty is truth. Truth, beauty.
That is all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know." 
The point and definition of poetry is a curious and languid creature, mysterious and 'unknown' as Saul discusses. Many interpretations from many different thinkers have abided during infinite and idiosyncratic time. Plato and Aristotle argued between teacher and pupil over poetry's beneficial or derogatory affect on civilisation, Plato arguing the latter. But these men agreed that the works of poets such as Homer and Aeschylus should be analysed by speech in rhetoric, drama, song and comedy. These 'poetics' sort to determine what distinguishes poetry as a unique form and what makes it 'good' or 'bad'. As time transmogrified through a series of odd happenings thinkers tried to define poetry's departure from prosaic literary forms such as the essay, manifesto or biography by looking at repetition, rhyme, verse form and aesthetics, abba bccb blah! 
From the mid-20th century poetry has been more loosely described as a fundamental creative act employing the use of language (funky-fresh). Modern poetry often critiques and sets out to usurp traditional techniques and their preoccupation with euphony. But this subject has long rebuffed and contradicted itself, poetry is a pre-literary 'oral' tradition, people were jabbering about it when the most advanced civilisations thought the Sun was swallowed each evening by an enormous snake. You may argue these cultures remain more civilised, the third eye of Exodus, fuck the enlightenment bring me cryptid creatures.  Indeed when old Willy shake his Spear started out he was considered something like a scriptwriter for Neighbours. As the most revered cats in town were following strict concepts of drama derived in part from ancient Roman and Greek patterns such as Horace's 5 Act rule, they thought little of Willy's characters. The wonderful and murderous Macbeth was resolved to a lowly Harold Bishop banqueting on chocolate hobnobs. Act divisions were later sadly later enforced on poor old Willy by douche bag transcribers of his work. But it was Shakespeare's abandonment of academia's dictum that had him sanctified as a visionary and hero by the Romantics who were concerned with intuition over reason, pastoral over urban all in revolt to the prevailing Enlightenment ideals of the time as well as the 'dark satanic' Industrial Revolution.
Where does Saul Williams locate within poetry's statute? Well he stands on the watch towers of 'now', peering upon a rich harem of culture. He is a man brought up in 80s New York, hip-hop had taken hold and all intelligent contemporaries were enthralled by its cultural significance. Williams points out in the interview below that hip-hop is born from 'sample culture' and can 'turn you on' to other people by discovering who is featured within the track, he imbibes from all wells - a child of hip-hop, a child of the limitless 'unknown'.
It was not poets like 'Audrey Lourde, June Jordan, Sekou Sundiata etc' that informed the man of Volcanic Sunlight, he 'had been inspired to write because of emcees like Rakim, Chuck D, LL, Run DMC' but hip-hop does not define him, where Saul Williams fits into poetry's canon is blissfully unanswerable.  Hip-hop allows for infinite possibility just as Williams deserts formality and takes example by way of Ginsberg, Burroughs, , E E Cummings, Jim Morrison and pretty much anyone who has done things for the need to fundamentally express. Williams has become something of a modern Renaissance man achieving in the written, spoken, rapped, acting, e.t.c arenas. He does not dictate a form for artistry to inhabit but allows all possibilities to lead him through the 'emotional terrain'. Williams work is what opens up the 'window' and lets the myriad hues of being flood in, he helps us all travel to new domains. In an open-letter to Oprah Winfrey answering her question 'Are all rappers poets?' Williams labels himself a "Backpacker" which means to say he is 'a person who chooses to associate themselves with the more "conscious" or politically astute artists of the hip-hop community.' Williams points out the nature of being a poet is to understand one's vulnerability and sensitivities. To quote him: 
'Cause we represent a truth, son, the changes by the hour
And when you open to it, vulnerability is power
And in that shifting form, you'll find a truth that doesn't change
And that truth is living proof of the fact that God is strange
'God is strange' and as long as he, the unknown, remains so, poetry will continue to draw breath. A definition of 'Pretension' is 'something that alludes to things larger than itself'. Williams continues to suggest opening worlds of new imagery, he's a painter with words, he's a fucking great poet and that is "all ye need to know".
So as I come to a close on this jumbled and thoughtless diatribe it's fitting to quote Czeslaw Milosz' Ars Poetica? The Nobel prize winner ends his poem's title with a question mark mirroring Saul's statement "I'm making this up, I have no fucking idea". Milosz says at the essence of poetry:
'a thing is brought forth which we didn't know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out and stood in the light, lashing his tail.'
Enjoy the film. Much love your Editor
Posted 11th February by Livemusic Team
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