Your current frequencies of understanding outweigh that which has been given for you to understand.
The current standard is the equivalent of an adolescent restricted to the diet of an infant.
The rapidly changing body would acquire dysfunctional and deformative symptoms, and could not properly mature on a diet of apple sauce and crushed pears.
Light years are interchangeable with years of living in darkness.
The role of darkness is not to be seen as, or equated with...ignorance...but with the unknown, and the mysteries of the...unseen.
--Saul Williams--"Coded Language", Amethyst Rock Star
And this passage, of course (and the rest of the blistering start of "Coded Language"), is but a prelude to Saul Williams tearing into his famous and raucous invocation of pan-cultural men gods, heroes and muses (including a few tin wreath wearers) new and old. Like most snippets I feature on Quotidie, this poem/rap is to be heard, not just read.
Williams is one of my Hip-Hop heroes. He effortlessly crafts weaves into sharp assault that leaves you keen, rather than numbed. There is more poetry in one Saul Williams song than in most entire anthologies of middle 20th-century verse. It's not metrical, but then again, remember clause three of the Imagist manifesto:
As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
Decades of poetasters didn't take those words literally enough, and as a result produced lukewarm prose chopped into lines, calling it poetry. I believe this clause has little practical use in criticism except in griot traditions of, which have only really come into the commonplace in the West with the emergence of hip-hop. Williams is skillful enough to use all the griot's kit, including allusion (not in the snippet above, but elsewhere in the song), vivid surrealism, personification (without pathetic fallacy), word play (the pun of "crushed pears" and "crushed peers" is especially neat), and contrapuntal caesura, as in the emphasis of "ignorance" and "unseen".
Some of this tradition informs the current world of "spoken word" performance, although most spoken word is weakened by lack of instrumental accompaniment. SOHH.com recently had a very interesting interview with Common (see an earlier Quotidie) and Saul Williams about this genre.
[Saul Williams]: Poetry has a much longer oral tradition that it does a written tradition. So that's one of the ways that Hip-Hop is very connected to the history of poetry; in that poetry was always recited since before people even knew how to write. In Europe, Asia, Africa, you name it; poetry was recited before it was written. So in many ways, it helps not to have the formal training in poetry because the formal is often misinformed.
The best training is not being lectured and brow-beaten by bureaucrats in workshops, but deciding for yourself what you like to hear and working like a slave to imitate it. Clearly this has worked for Williams. I'm grateful not to have ever taken a single course in literature or criticism. Instead I've read widely and practiced strenuously.
But thinking about the potential of the movement artists like Saul Williams and Common represent is a matter of pondering two simple questions:
1) What will Poetry do for Hip-Hop?
[SOHH.com]: The influences of Hip-Hop, The Last Poets, and the Black Arts movement also helped to shape the 90s' spoken word or "slam poetry" movement. After shining for years at poetry clubs like the Nuyorican Poet's Café, the style has now reached new heights of fame through Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam franchise. Arguably this is the form that has done more than anything to bring a new generation back to poetry.
A lot of slam poetry is just plain loud, sloppy whingeing, but to Simmons' defence, he's done a good job of picking the best for his show. Lori and I enjoy it immensely. I think of it as not so much poetry, and not so much music. It's a very energetic form of dramatic monologue that takes rhetoric from poetry and form from music. Artists attuned to this genre have formed the backbone of the camp that has been quietly preserving real Hip-Hop from the decadence of the bling/bitches/hoes era, and who are slowly emerging from the underground into the mainstream in the form of Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, MF Doom and more.
2) What will Hip-Hop do for Poetry?
[Williams]: I think [the poetry establishment are] slowly opening up to [Hip-Hop]. It'll take a few more ventures from us onto the written page for them to really embrace it. Once we find a balance between the stage and the page, the academics will realize the importance of what's happening right now. Because we are definitely the ones who have brought poetry back to life.