Saul Williams is not a run-of-the-mill poet. For one thing, he has a recurring guest role on a sitcom (UPN's Girlfriends) and two major film credits. He also has the natural charisma of Bill Clinton, the creative flash of Jimi Hendrix and the sexual energy of Jim Morrison. He crosses genres as easily as he crosses the street, and he has a stage presence that made one woman dreamily declare in the documentary SlamNation, "Saul Williams was like a vagina orgasm." He does, admittedly, leave you a little short of breath, and yes, this is poetry we're talking about.

When he speaks about his art, Williams refers to himself as a vessel—the tool through which the art pours from somewhere beyond him. It's an eye-roll remark, but if you've ever watched him--at the Aladdin Theater Tuesday night, perhaps--you don't doubt for one second that he's possessed. When he launches into one of his slow grooves like a snake charmer, or into a gyrating frenzy punching out syncopated, lyrical beats that summon gods, moons and ancient philosophers in less time than it takes to order lunch, his spirit moves you. When he comes back, he's eloquent and soft-spoken with an easy smile. It's not about him, after all, but the message.His written word is equally channeled--an explosion of a personal and political ideology that is decidedly progressive. His latest book, , said the shotgun to the head, is an epic poem told from the view of a homeless man who is simultaneously searching for passion and bemoaning the decay of everything worth celebrating. It's a poetic kick to the head, infused with the wreckage of 9/11 and its trail of fear.

He attributes the title to Maya Angelou, who once wrote "someone's writing should be what they would write if they had a gun in their mouth." From the reeling punch of his metaphors to the anxious canto punctuation—he borrows the leader countdown in film for visual and symbolic effect—you could say the barrel is cocked.

, said the shotgun to the head, like all of Williams' work, is a controlled burn. That you can get right next to it makes it no less thrilling. —Teresa DiFalco, Willamette Week Online (11/26/2003)