By C. Patterson
About 14 years ago I was turned on to a powerful voice in the world of poetry. He was gritty, talented, and knew words that kept me running to dictionaries and concepts that kept me scouring the Internet, his name was Saul Williams. At the time his thoughts and ideas stretched the limits of my knowledge of self and my grasp of existentialism, but over time I read and read some more and with each word I stepped that much deeper into the mind of someone I viewed as uniquely brilliant. Fast-forward over a decade and I found myself on a collision course with one of the brightest young minds on the planet in the realm of poetry and literature. Fresh on the heels of the release of his new book Chorus, Saul spoke with me. The following are excerpts from a half an hour-long conversation via Skype with a man who is as charismatic as he is enigmatic. He is Saul Williams.
How has the Parisian experience been?
It’s enlightening. I think that it’s always good to travel so I find the experience enlightening regardless of where I am. There’s a history to Paris and even while being in this country while reading James Baldwin, Chester Himes, and Richard Wright can be enlightening in a new way [pauses for a moment]…yeah it’s wonderful.
I was reading about you learning the French language and becoming more immersed in the culture and I know you already know Portuguese, what’s the next place that you want to travel to and get a real feel for?
I would love to learn one of the languages indigenous to Africa such as Wolof or Kenyan, Rwandan or Zulu or Bambara. I would love to learn one of those languages. I did a little bit with Wolof last summer when I shot a film in Senegal for two months and had to learn a bit for the film – not enough to carry on a real conversation, but I would love to learn one of those languages.
What can we expect from Chorus?
Well, you might be able to expect to be offended. Honestly, I’m pretty fed up with the big picture of popular culture and entertainment and all those things. So a lot of times when I’m releasing material my goal is to disrupt the calm. So the voices that were chosen, it’s a 100 voices in this book that are not my own but I chose to weave like one and a lot of those voices are women and a lot of those voices are angry. And I would say that they have every right to be angry. I just wanted to provide a platform for some venting along with moments of beauty and grandeur and all that stuff. It all depends on the individual, as far as, what they can expect. Maybe they can expect a conformation of what they already see and what they already believe and maybe they can expect to be jolted from their beliefs or realities based on someone else’s reasoning.
You mentioned your thoughts on being fed up with the current state of pop culture. What are you thoughts on mainstream artists, who pretend to be part of the counter-culture, but in actuality are a huge part of the machine?
[Laughs] I mean c’mon, it has happened all throughout history. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have been there with you a lot of times frustrated when I see…I doubt know…Jay-Z in a Che Guevara t-shirt. But why not? [Throws hands up in the air] The feeling is exactly that, you throw your hands up in the air and you’re like [again motioning his hands up the air in the classic “I don’t know pose”]. Sometimes you’re like “I’m proud of you, that’s cool” and other times you’re like “You’re an idiot that’s bullshit.” So it depends. At the end of the day I don’t discriminate on someone being mainstream and part of pop culture. There are lots of pop artists that I appreciate like I named Jay-Z, I actually like Jay-Z I like saying that because I can remember when I didn’t, but his maturity in recent years has made me appreciate him more. But that’s kind of arrogant to say because it could be my maturity that made me like him more. Who knows? The machine is the problem not the artist. My job is to destroy the machine.
When you were compiling the material for your latest book and you were reflecting on the body of work, how much has changed or how little has changed since the poems were originally written?
That cliché that says, “the more things change, the more they remain the same” unfortunately is a cliché because it’s true. So yes there are always major steps that have happened from gay rights to women’s rights to who is in office that has never been in office and all those things are all strives that we can be proud of but I think we could easily be like what the fuck it took you that long to realize that? Most of the time that’s where I’m sitting.
A lot of times in poetry it’s individual growth that’s being evaluated or chronicled in someone’s work and the individual process is almost always the same whether we are talking about 100 years ago or now. The individual process of breaking from your insecurities and finding the connections between the present and the past or between your feelings and your fears and all those things will always be valid regardless of when it occurs. So in that sense you can have ancient poets that sound really modern and modern poets that sound really old. Most things will never really change – human sentiment the realm of emotion and the process and growth. Those things will never really change. A flower blossoms and grows the same way it did a thousand years ago.
Come see and hear Saul at the Sons of Hermann Hall September 25.