Why Poetry Matters: Saul Williams

You know you’re a big deal when hip-hop icon Most Def introduces you with the same reverence and respect as he’d introduce Christ.

But for many poets, Saul Williams is the messiah.

It’s not just the sound of William’s words that makes him a poetic genius, it’s also his urgent message of change. Williams speaks his poetry with urgency, asking, when will rhyme be equated with reason?  Why isn’t rhyme a so-called “rational” mode of thought? His performance demands attention, asking—actually, insisting— for audiences to sit up, to wake up, to pay attention to the state of the world, and to take ownership of that state.

As a black poet, Williams questions his racial subjectivity and challenges stereotypes surrounding darkness. As a marginalized speaker, Williams recognizes how his people have been excluded from language, yet he refuses to identify himself as simply a victim of discourse. Instead, his poetry—with its sharp sounds and staccato rhythms—punctures  the ear, thwarting our understanding of poetry as a quiet, private exchange between speaker and listener and instead stages poetry within public and political arenas.

To categorize Williams as a black poet simplifies the trajectory of “Coded Language.” In this piece, Williams calls on every person, “every so-called gender, race, sexual preference,” to “raise the consciousness of the entire fucking world,” to be “beings of sound.”

Williams poetry accosts, asking—nay, demanding: what sound have you made today?




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