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Saul Williams: Poet to the People

It’s 2:00 am on a Saturday night. Just outside the Metro Theatre in Victoria, where Day 3 of Rifflandia has just wrapped up. About an hour earlier, patient fans were ushered in to an already over-capacity house to witness a spoken word and one of the most talked about guests at the four day arts festival: Saul Williams. The entering patrons are greeted with thunderous applause by the crowd already in their seats. Saul invites those without chairs to sit on the stage. Someone blurts out “Occupy Metro”, launching Saul into a story and captivating the audience all over again.

 Fast forward back to 2am; fans and aspiring writers linger with their bicycles, hoping to chat with their hero, one of the few true icons in the spoken word and slam poetry field. He is humble, down-to-earth and one thing is clear: he is interested in what people have to say. It is clear why many aspiring poets look up to him: his stream-of-consciousness-like poems are chalk full of intelligent ideas, politics and literature. Occasionally, his poems have a song-like quality, reminiscent of the early days of hip hop. But that is not what makes Saul so endearing.

 When I asked if I could ask him a few questions he agreed. He then said that although he would like to, he really came out just to talk to the people and would rather if we didn’t. He quickly asked if I could include some of the fans in our conversation. That’s the kind of person Saul Williams is. He is so interested in what others have to say, that he insisted on having local fans do an interview with him. Everybody is on equal footing with Saul.

 While Saul was many people’s introduction into slam poetry and spoken word, I must confess that I first knew him as an actor. His most visible role was as the agoraphobic and germaphobic Ernie in K-PAX opposite Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges (With whom Saul had jam sessions with in the former’s trailer). During the show, Saul explained that his background was in theatre, which is why it was it so easy for to start performing poetry and music. Since my introduction to slam poetry almost five years ago, I have discovered his mastery of words.

 Slam poetry often gets stereotyped as a having a political ideology, Saul says this is not necessarily true. Poets simply choose to speak out, but anybody has the power to. Words of a true artist. And Saul Williams is among the truest of artists. An artist for the people.


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