Who: Gian Smith
What: Poet, artist, writer, actor, video producer
Where: WWNO studio
Q: How do you know when to reference something?
A: Sometimes it comes to you if you’re in the writing phase and you can make that connection to something that moved you in the past. Sometimes it works backwards – something inspires you to speak on it, and you want to include it in the work. You pull meaning from it that can suit whatever message you want to give.
In my past work there’s so much that I’ve sampled. There’s a poem that I’m the most known for about the neighborhood of Treme, and there’s a lot of sampling of the musical culture. I also did a poem about the violence in New Orleans, and there’s a lot of samples of the artist Juvenile. I infuse his elements of rap with my poetry.
And you practice those things in the shower, in front of a mirror, and in front of anyone that will listen. I have even practiced poems in the French Quarter. People will stop, listen, give a nod, and then move on. That connection with the audience is so great.
Us spoken work poets love when the audience engages with us. Some of the things you might hear at an open mic, is me yelling out, ‘Come on, poet.’ There are times when a poet will get caught up in the words or we may even forget the words, and we tell them, ‘Take your time.’ That’s one of my favorite things about the contributions that writers make with each other – the encouragement and engagement.
Q: What color do you hear with the word appreciation?
A: Yellow. It’s my mom’s favorite color, so that’s who I’m thinking about.
Q: What musical instrument would the phrase, ‘I can always put things back in perspective’ play?
A: It would play the kora. Cause the kora always puts me back in perspective. No matter how bad a day I’m having, I hear the strings and remember that it’s not so bad.
Q: What would a car want to be called if it could name itself?
Q: How would you describe silence or negative space?
A: One of the things that poets do really well – and often get made fun of for by people who have opinions of how spoken word poets perform – is add pauses in their speech. Going from high to low. Slowing down the tempo dramatically. They’ll speak really fast and be going at it, and then they’ll go really slowly.
There are some people that imitate a lot of those things, and people who are looking from the outside might find that as something to poke fun at, but people who are skilled and practiced know how and why to use these devices, and they can very accurately capture negative space with that.
It’s interesting because there’s a really strong connection – especially in New Orleans – between educators and spoken word. Spoken word isn’t something that’s easy to do as a full-time occupation and sustain yourself with, so a lot of spoken word poets are educators. Most of the poet’s goal is to educate in some way or deliver a message, so it kind of comes natural. There have also been a lot of poets who started off as educators, and were moved to come to the open mic, and they became poets as a result of that. So there’s this balance between creating negative space and sending a message.
Q: If one of your poems was alive in human form and was going to take one of your other poems on a date in New Orleans, where would they go?
A: I’m going to say the poem for Treme ‘You Betta Ask Somebody’ would take out the poem ‘Oh Beautiful Storm.’ They would go to Congo Square and have a picnic. They would drink daiquiris on this date. I have a good feeling about this date.
You can learn more about Gian Smith as well as hear samples from his poetry on his website. Gian hosts an open mic night every third Saturday of the month at the Joan Mitchell Center (2275 Bayou Road).