An Evening with Saul Williams

A light rain brought forth little urgency while walking to the club. I arrived 90 minutes early, confused by the familiar. The Rumba Café turned out to be a place I had been once before. I failed to realize it until the interior of the bar had been recognized, and my thoughts wandered back toward that initial experience. The band of that evening has since dissolved, but such a moment was recalled with appreciation. Nostalgia doesn’t always sting, and I smiled.

The establishment was near vacant upon arrival, and I wasn’t sure how the crowd turnout was going to look, and feared our community wouldn’t accommodate a travelling poet. Would our general public misinterpret the notion of live spoken word? Would it be brushed off as a random hipster ode to my vegan bicycle? No. The people began to trickle in, business at the bar increased, and soon the place contained quite an audience for this intimate venue.

I’ve always associated quality spoken word to be most heavily impacted by delivery. Without backing music or gimmick, all that is left to impact beyond the literal word choice is the performativity of the speaker. Saul Williams often structures his words into narratives that blur the lines between philosophy and poetic grandeur, but it is his performative delivery that gives his words such appeal beyond logical musing. Much of his work is fraught with social commentary and complicated by personal reflections. Williams speaks on race, gender, misogyny, poverty, culture, society, and his considerations as it all fits into a narrative that begs an attempt at thoughtfulness and consideration.

Suddenly an entity appears on the stage in sunglasses, displaying a casual demeanor of calm as he rejects the humidity. His appearance brings the crowd to an instinctive silence, and without pomp or so much as an introduction he begins with the careful vigor of skilled aggression. The initial silence of the crowd bordered between respect and a collective hesitant tendency to break the ice with an artist.

Williams opened by reciting a selection of poems from his newest collection titled, US (a.), before moving on to singing, older poetic works, and even taking a few audience requests. He ran through an extended version of DNA, which included a great assortment of lyrics that were restructured for the musical compositions of his 2007 album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust. It seemed as though it were all for me, and I am selfish enough to consider it for just a moment.

There weren’t many words expressed by Saul that didn’t impact the crowd with the weight of their blunt force honesty. In exploring narcissism as the cultural norm he describes the problem as “not just consumerism, but self-consumerism” (Williams). This notion furthers another theory on fear and consumption, “keep them afraid, and they’ll consume” (M. Manson), and directs it toward the concept that the product we’re being sold is our own narcissistic satisfaction as a means to complacency. But such is a notion to reject. Progress is revealed to be stagnant in complacent waters, as the poet continued, “sometimes we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, sometimes we must stand on their fucking necks” (Williams). There was a collective feeling that resonated in the audience of harmony through discord. Maybe that’s a bit much, but without bells, whistles, or even a beat… I felt something.

Danger exists when the problem is only acknowledged. An addict may be capable of admitting such a circumstance complicates their ability to associate, yet the vice may parallel with their sense of identity. Morbid pride forms when such flaws are embraced. Williams spoke near the end of his struggles with his view of women, which reminds me that acknowledgement of the defect is not equal to catharsis.

The delivery of Saul Williams comes second to his words. He is a poet, and such poets are dangerous. We should live to embrace such danger.

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