By Maricela Lechuga

Poetry shook the Porter Dining Hall, as legendary poet Saul Williams captivated the audience with a message: a movement is coming.

UC Santa Cruz celebrated the fifth annual Kinetic Poetics Project (KPP) festival last week, a five-day spoken word and poetry festival with free writing workshops and performances by featured artists.

After the Feb. 6 slam team finals for a spot on the UCSC Slam Poetry Team, Williams, HBO Def Jam poet, performed, drawing a large crowd and generating much excitement.

Audience members, such as UCSC alumnus Jorge Martinez, felt artistically rejuvenated by what Williams had to say. “[The performance was] a factory for sanity in an institution [that] often insinuated insanity,” Martinez said. “Real education, free, and I’ve graduated. Damn!”

After the performance, Williams was surrounded by fans waiting to shake his hand, give their praises and get autographs. Amid the commotion, the musician, author and renowned spoken-word artist found a few moments to share his opinions with City on a Hill Press (CHP).

CHP: Where do you think art and activism overlap?

Williams: They usually overlap in the work of great artists. In the artists that I admire: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Bob Marley and Fela Kuti. Writers like Salman Rushdie or Alice Walker or Angela Davis. I think the two can be one and the same.

CHP: What do you think about the increasing interest in poetry and spoken word among the youth?

Williams: I think that popularity of poetry among youth today is really cool, especially when you think about the times when poetry gets popular. It’s always right at the point when there’s a movement. [It lets] you know when we’re on the cusp of a movement. You wouldn’t have had the hippie movement if it weren’t for the Beat Poets of the ’50s. You wouldn’t have had the civil rights movement if it weren’t for the Harlem Renaissance poets. You wouldn’t have had the Black Power movement if it weren’t for the Black Hearts movement, which preceded it with those poets. So any time poetry gets popular, it usually means that there are some new ideas such as freedom or what have you getting popular. First comes our fight to articulate it and then we embody it. So any time poetry gets popular I’m excited.

CHP: Do you think we are living in a time of epic proportions? And if so, what is your take on social movements?

Williams: All times have been epic. All times have played a role and have been something that people can look at and go, ‘Wow, there’s never been any day like this,’ and it’s always been true. Living life ferociously, having fun, blasting music, dancing with strangers — even that is a form of social activism. We don’t need to take ourselves so seriously and think that social activism is if you’re dressed in hemp and holding a sign. There are several ways to express it. Spending the afternoon learning how to play the guitar, changing your major to what you’re passionate about versus what you or your parents think will earn you money, is a form of social activism. There are many ways that can be expressed. Imagination is epic — that’s what’s important and that’s what should distinguish these times from earlier times, is how much we delved into our imaginations and created something wonderful, unforeseen, unthought-of.

CHP: Who would you vote forpresident?

Williams: Right now I’m voting for Obama.

CHP: You talk about spirituality in some of your poetry. How would you personally justify the existence of God?

Williams: How would you justify the existence of every single individual in this room? Is it up for us to justify? That doesn’t have to be justified. God is looking me in the eyes right now in the form of about 12 or 18 people all staring in this direction looking at me and I am looking back at them and you know, we’re all looking at each other. God doesn’t have to be justified. God is not something in the air. God is not some hierarchy or monarchy where this man sits on top. God is holding the microphone right now and recording.

_Additional reporting by KZSC’s Jake Margolis._