New Orleans Poet Sets Character Of HBO's 'Treme'
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
Gian Smith, would you read the first stanza of your poem "O Beautiful Storm," please?
GIAN SMITH: (Reading) I've got the rain in my veins. The floodwater in my blood makes my heart beat harder. I've got the scent of the death and decay in the wind, sinking into my nose and under my skin. She's the music in my ears and the mold in my soul. Move with her like bellies to Congo drums. Write a sonnet to her, serenade her, recite her a poem. Bump her like sissy bounce or mellow into her like Marsalis. Let her weave through your brain like a song that's moved you when you can stop the flow. But don't let her go.
HANSEN: Thanks a lot for being with us.
SMITH: Thank you for having me.
HANSEN: In "O Beautiful Storm" you give Hurricane Katrina a personality. I mean even a soul. Was writing it a cathartic experience for you?
SMITH: But I also wanted to recognize all of the factors that contributed to it, as well, which, you know, it goes beyond just an act of nature. There's elements of government corruption, you know, there's neglect, there's our own arrogance. We probably thought we were bigger than the hurricane.
HANSEN: You were discovered by Treme's producer. Was "O Beautiful Storm" the poem that attracted their attention?
SMITH: There was a symposium done at a university in New Orleans and I was asked to speak as a representative of the artist community. A friend of mine, he was the one who asked that I be on the panel, and he also came to me and asked that I write a performance piece about the neighborhood of Treme - not the TV show. When I performed that piece, I think it caught the eye of a lot of people, so...
HANSEN: What was that piece?
SMITH: The piece is called - a poem for Treme - called "You Better Ask Somebody."
HANSEN: Can you recite just a little of it?
SMITH: (Reading) I believe Jesus died for my salvation, and for recognizing that, I get a day off from work and another cause for celebration. Fat Tuesday coming, y'all can't eat no more meat, but Good Friday mean a fish fry and an extra day vacation. See y'all in St. Augustine Church Easter and Christmas only, 'cause when we get ready to fast we pull out that brass and we drink 'til Ash Wednesday and then go to mass.
HANSEN: Nice, nice. What happened to you and your family after Katrina? I mean, you're a native New Orleanian.
SMITH: And I never really appreciated it, or I didn't appreciate that it was New Orleans that allowed that kind of freedom for me. You know, I thought it was me. Until I got to Silver Spring, Maryland and I was alone. You know, I would walk on the streets of New Orleans by myself but I never felt alone.
HANSEN: So, because it's Easter is it appropriate for me to ask is "O Beautiful Storm" about resurrection?
SMITH: Obviously, there's, you know, still people who were displaced who would like to get back. But, you know, for the most part, I feel like we're back and I feel like we're better. And so in that way I think it's definitely about resurrection.
HANSEN: Poet Gian Smith wrote "O Beautiful Storm," which was heard in the trailer for the second season of "Treme," the HBO series set in post-Katrina New Orleans. The second season of "Treme" premieres tonight on HBO. Gian Smith appears in episode five. Gian, thank you very much.
SMITH: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
BAND: (Singing) The rebirth is in my (unintelligible), sing it...
HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.