Imagine you’re a high school student, sitting in a large audience facing a mostly empty stage with a singular mic-stand atop it. Above said stage is a banner with a commanding ‘WORD UP’ scribbled across colorful, graffiti-like swirls. You likely went to this poetry event because your friends dragged you along, expecting boring, monotone readings of rhyming, old-sounding English.
But then, a jubilant freshman in fabulous magenta boots walks tall across the stage, approaching the mic. She opens her mouth, and out comes magic. Her words are pure emotion, pure spirit, pure truth, and with every passing second you are filled with power.
She is Kiana Maria Roman, a fearless woman who changes the world by scribbling in her notebook and baring her soul to anyone who listens. Read on to see just how she evolved as an artist, found her family in High Tech’s Slam Poetry Club, developed a youth event called Next Gen Voices, and how she knew poetry was her destiny.
The Poem of a Child’s Life
Kiana has been writing poetry ever since she was seven years old. The very first poem she composed was centered around the birth of her younger sister – it was a small assignment she had received in second grade. Her intrigue and interest then faded away throughout the year, but then come third or fourth grade, her world changed forever.
She entered her elementary school’s talent show, an event that they scarcely held. Her mom suggested she write a poem, similar to her second grade assignment, and she agreed, nonchalant and indifferent. Kiana ended up writing a poem set in the perspective of a child growing up, titling it “The Poem of a Child’s Life”. When she performed the piece, it was like fate was sitting in the audience nodding along in approval.
“That was the moment where I was like, this is what I was meant to do.”Kiana Roman, on performing poetry at her elementary talent show
Written in the Stars
The majority of Kiana’s poems are narratives, reflecting on past experiences and the hardships she endured. She transforms these moments into varying perspectives through her writing.
“It’s my way to either one, get over something, two, to just express it on a piece of paper, and three to show myself that it’s okay, and what I’m going through it normal.” She explains.
Her top five favorite poems, in no specific order, include:
- Barbie Doll, describing how women are expected to have a certain figure and look similar to a Barbie
- If Disney Were to Make a Hispanic Disney Princess, stemming from her being a fan of Disney and noting on the lack of Latina representation
- Time is Our Enemy, written about her late uncle, who passed away when Kiana was six years old
- The Best Thing, written for her father on the emotional effect of the passing of NBA Basketball Star, Kobe Bryant, on him
- I Am From, embracing her nationality and Hispanic culture, an assignment in Slam Poetry
Many people in Gen Z have a certain hobby or passion to define who they are, their ‘thing’ that gives them an identity. Whether it be art, singing, dancing, math, or fashion, it’s used to help define one’s existence and have that something special. For Kiana, her ‘thing’ is poetry. She doesn’t take her pent-up feelings and emotions, lock them up, and throw away the key, she puts them into beautiful, expressive words. Anywhere, anytime, in class, on the bus, just whenever inspiration hits, she’ll scribble it down in her poetry book.
The True Definition of Family
In her elementary school, Kiana had a hard time finding a group that would listen and relate to her poetry. There was no space or platform that allowed her to do so. When she got accepted into High Tech High School for the Design and Fabrication Academy, she gained more than just a transition in age, environment, and maturity, she found her family.
Slam Poetry is a club at High Tech that gathers students from all majors to write poetry, share poetry, and simply just chill and hang out. The day Kiana attended her first meeting, she went home crying because of how exhilarated, excited, and amazed she felt. Slam Poetry was a community of people just like her, who would actually listen to her feelings and empower her to grow in her talents.
“I love everybody in that group,” Kiana gushes. “It was that moment of ‘this is where I belong, this is where I needed to be.'”Kiana Roman, on her peers in Slam Poetry
She finds that her English teacher, Mr. Diaz, who also is the advisor for Slam, is an inspiring figure in her journey as a poet. She seeks advice, constructive criticism, and suggestions from him on how to improve. Other people she confides in regarding her poetry composition are her mother, father, sister, and her friend Kyeila.
Slam Poetry hosts events called Word Up, where poets verbally express their words on stage. During Kiana’s first event, she was a freshman, and was chose as the opening act. She describes it as being “…very scary, terrifying, even mortifying.” But after the first words of her poem ‘Barbie Doll’ left her mouth, Kiana found ease, comfort, and solace within her poetry. The experience made her appreciate being on stage ten times more, and she considers it the best thing she had ever done.
Click the image to the right to be directed to a Google Drive link that shows ten seconds of Kiana’s Word Up performance.
A Hispanic Disney Princess
One poem Kiana performed at another Word Up performance was titled ‘If Disney Were to Make a Hispanic Disney Princess’. It describes misrepresentation of Latinas and Hispanic culture in the media, especially Disney movies. Kiana is the perfect example of what a Hispanic Disney Princess might entail – confident, beautiful, and outspoken; her magical power is turning feelings into poems.
Many aspects of her culture and ethnicity weave their way into her poetry. In her ‘I am From’ poem, she takes inspiration from her Colombian and Puerto Rican roots.
“Colombia’s known for having a lot of violence,” Kiana says. “I wrote, ‘I’m not from violence but from the soil where the coffee beans come from’. I put a positive perspective on it.”
She takes a strong adoration to Colombian food and Puerto Rican music, specifically salsa music, which she describes as ‘so beautiful’.
Kiana also stands up for female empowerment. She loves wearing t-shirts displaying symbols and words that pertain to feminism and women. In regards to her fashion style, she likes to find a balance between tomboyish and girly attire, not wanting to conform to labels. Kiana likes to explore all categories in order to stand against stereotypical beauty standards.
The Show of Our Generation
Next Gen Voices is a show that Kiana developed in Bayonne, New Jersey. Originally, the event was supposed to take place on March 27th and 28th, 2020, however, due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, it was postponed to a later date.
She gathered people from all over the county, from schools such as High Tech, County Prep, and Bayonne High School, with talent acts ranging from song, dance, poetry, and more. Kiana says that the hardest part about the organization process was developing the setlist. She tried making sure that not all the songs were in the same section, poems didn’t overpower each other, and that the flow of the event went smoothly and cohesively.
Kiana wanted to give the people of our generation a platform to express themselves in any way shape or form, as the city of Bayonne rarely holds arts events such as Next Gen Voices. In creating this show, she helps to represent the voice of us, the next generation, and our passion to perform and create.
Kiana showed her appreciation for both Gen Z and ZENERATIONS during the interview. During the period of self-isolation, she says that a platform where teenagers are able to express themselves is absolutely amazing. It’s exactly what we need at this moment, and with all this negativity shrouding the world, a place of inspiration in the media is the key to pushing through.
She believes that we as a society are not yet finished. There’s still that heavy glass ceiling looming over us with several cracks in it, but not completely broken. As the next generation of the world, it is our job to step up for minorities, social issues, and our people as a whole, in order to finally break through.
THE BEST THING
By Kiana Maria Roman