Imagine Divine Inspiration slipping one of Saturn’s rings on Pure Talent’s finger and the two of them joining together in holy matrimony. Feel the blissed out perfection of these two beating as One sweetly singing truth. Lose and find yourself in the om of “Untimely Meditations”.
For me, there is no other spoken word performance that can even begin to hold a candle to Saul Williams’ performance of this piece in SlamNation The Movie. I have been waiting for years for this clip to become available on-line so that I could more easily share it with friends. Not even Saul’s own other performances of this poem compare to how electrifyingly he is plugged in to the divine wow in this presentation. There are great works of art that usher us into other realms. This is one of them.
I never got to see Saul Williams perform during the preliminary bouts leading up to the finals, so watching this video was a glimpse into a past I never knew. There are wonderful lines and plays on words here, and Saul works with sound so well. There is a sense of humor, too, which is so important in spoken word. The crowd is small from the sound of it, but they are into it.
It's interesting to note that the piece is too long by "modern" slam standards. The poem itself clocks in at about 3:25, which would have merited a full point deduction under the current rules, but probably didn't hurt Saul back when judges were merely advised that they "could deduct points if the poem went over the time limit." Historically, with such vague instructions, judges NEVER penalized long poems! That's essentially why the rule was changed and time penalties became automatic.
This was the first shoot for SlamNation, before we even knew we were doing a movie.
I had already made Slammin' and was shopping it around to MTV, Sony and even Russell Simmons (this was in ‘95-’96 – a little before it’s time apparently because Russell went on to do HBO’s Def Poetry Jam many years later). Nothing was in place, but the finals at the Nuyorican were happening and I knew I had to film it.
Bob Holman was still the host at the Nuyorican but the politics were fierce and relationships tense. Bob and producer Tom Poole made the shoot happen, but under the condition that we would not have access to the direct audio from the sound board. The Nuyorican wanted to make sure it had some say in what happened to the material. Tom made sure we got the proper audio later when SlamNation was in post-production.
Saul told me that this poem was still in progress when he performed it at the Nuyorican, so it might be interesting to compare it to later versions. It was still a powerful piece, because he won that night, went to Nationals, starred in SlamNation and the rest is history.
This classic poem from my movie SlamNation helped Saul Williams get famous.
SlamNation is the seminal film of the slam poetry literary/performance movement. It played theatrically across the U.S. and on HBO and Starz. This performance of the poem also appeared in the PBS Special “I’ll Make Me a World.”
AND it served as an audition piece of sorts for Marc Levin’s movie Slam, which went on to win the top prizes at Sundance and Cannes. Mark was set on Bonz Malone for the lead in his movie. But Bonz was in jail at the time and Marc needed alternatives. Marc knew I was working on SlamNation and wanted to see Saul in action on screen. I showed him this piece, and sold him hard on Saul, especially since Saul was also a trained actor.
Marc started workshopping scenes with Saul and Sonja Sohn, the female lead. He asked me to edit together a demo of this rehearsal footage, my footage of Saul from SlamNation, plus some guerrilla footage they had of Saul in a prison when they brought him in as an intern on one of Marc’s documentary shoots. (Brilliant!) The demo convinced the warden at the prison in DC to provide the main location for the movie and helped the team secure funding.
The process of making Slam has been well-documented, including a book. But this part of the story has never been told. Always wanted to ask Marc about that...
We have over 150 complete poems, extras and anecdotes from SlamNation, so definitely visit often for more!