Vinyl Press: Version Blog-o-sphere

Saul Williams: Workshop and Performance

Posted in Hip Hop, music, UNC by Reed Turchi on March 3, 2009
Saul Williams

Saul Williams

Saul Williams gave a workshop this afternoon on just about everything related to the performing arts–ranging from theater (which he went to graduate school for), to beat-making, to the modern state of hip-hop, to the craft of poetry–leaving no topic untouched in his stream-of-consciousness style discussion. What emerged  was a combination of artistic process, spiritual beliefs, and literary critique. Williams began by pointing out that the oral tradition of poetry is much older than the written one, and that the Greek population which Homer wrote his epic poems for was 97% illiterate, making him much more a “spoken word artist” than a widely-read author. Discussing poetry quickly led to Williams’ thoughts on the meditation process, which he was widely known for earlier in his career. Though he claimed to feel silly endorsing meditation “from a platform”, it was clear that meditation, and the ability to “deconstruct all the thoughts and neurons of the mind” has been hugely influential in his work.

Williams also addressed the current state of the spoken word movement, giving credit to both the slam poetry scene and hip-hop world for bringing out artists. In regards to formal education, he admitted that most of his friends now are professors, and that he believes the younger generation of professors will bring the spoken word movement more into the classroom, as it has been a larger part of their lives.

Beginning to write rhymes at age 10, Williams’ father was a Baptist preacher, giving him opportunities to take the stage and perform for audiences from a very young age. In his performance tonight, Williams used his gifts with stage presence to create a tone that was very intimate, and yet entirely controlled. This atmosphere embodies many of Williams’ beliefs of “becoming the poem”, and finding a spirituality that is universal, rather than exclusively embracing one of the organized religions. Williams described acting (in theater) as “Where you go to practice being“, and it’s clear that the sense of “being” he possesses drives his artistic process, and that for him “Poetry is the residue of the work that I’m doing on myself.”

Asked about what is most important to the life of the poet, or becoming a poet, Williams cited the “diet”–not just of food (though he did launch into a heavy pro-veganism speech here), but what you watch, what you read, what you listen to, what you surround yourself with, etc. In short, Williams’ beliefs and artistic inspiration comes from the world he has created for himself, even having created his own cosmology years ago (his 12 year old daughter is named Saturn…perhaps the pinnacle of this period of his life). Even from inside his own universe, however, Williams presence and delivery combined to make an enrapturing, inspiring, and entertaining performance.

Videos of the performance are available at

-Reed Turchi

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