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Poetic Rock Star
This Saturday Fresno's cultural gallery, Arte Américas, will be hosting one of the most talent-compacted poetic events Fresno has ever seen. On July 1, 2006 the enchanting presence and divine words of spoken-word poet Saul Williams will be exhibited under the valley stars.
Williams has been an icon in the spoken-word community since 1995. Starting out in Brooklyn Williams's words have reached far beyond the city, performing in places like France, Germany, Ireland, and Africa, not to mention throughout the entire United States.
Williams is the author of four phenomenal poetry collections: The Seventh Octave, She, Said the Shotgun to the Head, and his newest release Dead Emcee Scrolls. Meanwhile he has pioneered a whole new genre of music by interweaving poetry, song, and rock n' roll in his musical albums Amethyst Rock Star and his most recent self-titled release. But the talents of this versatile artist don't cease there. Movie-goers have also been impressed by Williams's innovative art form: he wrote and starred in the groundbreaking film Slam.
Williams elaborated on his involvement with these various genres, his perspective on the current plight of the arts, and even offered some advice for upcoming poets in a telephone interview conducted by community journalist Deanna Pierro.
Along with being a talented slam poet you also possess profound ability as an actor. Do you believe that your experience in theater has been advantageous to your poetic career? How do you think these two art forms correspond?
One of the ways I started studying poetry was through theater. When you're in a play one of the things you have to do is become familiar with the text of the play. There's a process of breaking down a script line for line, breaking down the objective, the objective of the character, and finding the beats. Therefore, I learned to pay close attention to what was written through theater.
Another way was some of the first theater that I did was Shakespeare, so I obviously became interested in poetry through that as well. Being on stage also helped. I don't think of myself as a performance poet, but I learned the presence, comfort, and confidence, to be on stage through theater.
You received your BA in acting and philosophy and later a Master's in acting from NYU; however, you have become one of the world's most renowned poets. Do you deem formal education necessary to write your style of poetry? Do you perceive there to be any disparity between the two?
Education is essential. Education is the only thing given that cannot be taken. But the so-called barriers between genres and areas of studying are so called. I feel that I've come to a great understanding of myself and my ability to write through studying things other than writing. Though writing was a part of it, it wasn't the focus. But I have nothing against studying writing. Had I known that this is what I was going to do I would have studied poetry. But I don't think education needs to be formalized or institutionalized to be valid.
In your recent publication, Dead Emcee Scrolls, you say that a majority of your work is actually credited to an anonymous author who created the scrolls, which you have essentially adopted as your own. The mysterious manner in which you describe the manifestation of your works from these scripture -esque scrolls can make some readers incredulous. And ironically, Dead Emcee Scrolls is located in the fiction section of major bookstores. Exactly how fictitious or truthful are your claims?
Readers should be incredulous. The gullible readers get the better journey, but they're gullible, and those that are incredulous get the incredulous journey, but maybe they get a little inspiration or find ways that they could pull it off even better.
The idea of the book is essentially to charge members of our generation with the belief and knowledge that the unreal is as valid as the real, that the unseen is as powerful as the seen. I believe it was Rumi that said "We should invest as much in the invisible world as we do in the visible world."
I call it metafiction -- remembering that belief is make-believe. I'm playing around with bio-mythology, so there's a great deal of truth, I wouldn't call the other things lies, but it's creativity. It's my imagination at work. Dead Emcee Scrolls is a creative endeavor; I think that should pretty much say it all.
Music stores across the country have classified your work under Rock/Pop, others under Rap, while many fans recognize your work as Spoken-Word. Moreover, LA Weekly awarded you Best Hip-Hop Artist, yet yourself once proclaimed "This ain't hip hop no more, son. It's bigger than that." Exactly how would you depict your work and in what genre(s) would you place yourself?
I rightfully belong in all of those worlds. If people feel like they have to choose one then that's their fault. Music is poetry, and hip-hop can be rock and roll, and rock and roll can be funky. All of these things can bleed into one another.
You talk a lot about the dire state of hip-hop. In your new self-titled album you assert, "Hip-Hop is lying on the side of the road half dead to itself." What or who do you feel is the culprit of the deteriorating state of hip-Hop and how do you plan to revive it?
The culprit would be ourselves. If our artforms, society, institutions, imaginations, are failing us it's only because we are failing ourselves by believing in something less than ourselves and not living up to our potential, not answering our callings, and being afraid to question authority, being afraid to think outside of the box, and then when the time comes being afraid to think within the box. We need to challenge ourselves beyond the current conception or perception of ourselves.
There is no singular thing to blame, but I do think that there are ideals and values to blame. It's ideals that can lead to anything, slavery, murder, self-annihilation. So we have to learn to think even more so for ourselves. We have to learn to overcome the senselessness in us that allows us to hold on to the idea of money being the ultimate power.
What advice do you have for aspiring slam poets striving for the same level of success that you have achieved?
I'm only successful in the sense that I have committed my work and myself to what I am passionate about. I encourage people to pay attention more to their passions rather than their ambitions. If you focus on the spotlight then you're more than likely neglecting your craft. But if you hold your craft at a certain capacity then it itself will begin to grow and attract the spotlight.
The success that I feel within myself is the fact that I still feel like myself. That's what I feel makes me successful. It's not the car or whatever it's the fact that I still feel true to who I am and what I've been aiming for my entire life. The poetry and music that I write is the residue of the work that I'm doing on myself. I'm going to ask people to let their work be the residue of the work that they're doing on themselves.
The other thing to remember is that I spent my entire life on stage preparing to be on camera. If it is your calling then there's nothing to worry about, so just prepare. Stay in the dressing room putting the powder on your nose, stay in the mirror and keep examining yourself and working on yourself so that when the curtains do part your ready. Success comes when opportunity meets preparation.
Saul Williams will perform Saturday, July 1, at Arte Americas. Tickets are $12.