Chaos as his concubine, what we witness on tonight’s stage is the Word made flesh. The poetical prophet has made his entrance, and he doesn’t need a microphone. “Are you nervous?” he asks as he steps under the spotlight. Well, we should be: Oxford doesn’t know what it’s in for. In a simple grey shirt and beat-up trainers, Saul Williams takes us from the streets of Detroit to Blakian ecstasies, transmogrifying the stuffy surrounds of the Grove Auditorium into an altar of dirty angels heralding a new poetry of which Allen Ginsberg would be proud.
Hailing from Newburgh, New York, it was whilst studying for his Master’s Degree at NYU that Williams first encountered the New York café poetry circuit where he quickly gained popularity, winning the title of Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s Grand Slam Champion in 1996, spring-boarding him to fame. A polymath professor of the University of Life, Williams is more than a mere fountain of Genericanisms and has a lot more to debate than identity politics.
With frankness and ease Williams opens the floor to questions, leaning in past the first row and into the crowd. Rather telling about our audience was a question about when things go wrong, a worry that plagues the minds of most here given the exigences of the University. When asked how he dealt with this, it was refreshing to hear a light mockery of this mentality, stating that there was no need to worry about error, and that it isn’t a “glitch in the Matrix”. The audience received an equal teasing for spelling mistakes in the email to his booking agent. So much for the OED.
To say that you have “seen” or “watched” Williams would be an inadequate choice of verb, as there is nothing passive about the encounter. Perhaps there is something of the preacher in the prophet: I wear my loin cloth over my eyes and ejaculate too soon. Forgive me Father for I have sinned. There is an unashamed nakedness to him, in his frank responses and in the nature of his poems. From the moment Williams takes to the stage, you enter a relationship with him. Together we bear witness to the young, skin-bleaching Black Stacey, then slide to engage with the older, smoother, lithe morning love-making thighs […] parentheses, holding silence and light.
When asked about his creative process, Williams said that writing for him was “like dancing”, an unconscious process – a fact that resonates in the liquid lucidity of the imagery of his poems, taking the spectator from inner space to outer space in one fell swoop: “we unravel our navels that we may ingest the sun” (Coded Language). Williams’s presence is all-encompassing and his poetry seizes all the senses with its velveteen depth and electric contentiousness. We were kept happy under the hypnotism of his tongue all evening – only to have to be told to leave and somehow shake ourselves from the blissful haze.
A great success for the Oxford Poetry Society with more speakers to come later in the term, I can’t wait for their next event.