BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
On Jan. 1, St. John’s University freshman and Queens native Ramya Ramana captivated New Yorkers at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration, where she recited her original poem, “New York City.”
Though only 18-years-old, Ramana has been very successful as a poet, even earning a full scholarship to St. John’s after winning the New York Knicks Poetry Slam competition this past spring.Ramana said poetry has always been a big part of her life, but she did not become very serious about it until she was a sophomore in high school. It was her experiences with bullying and peer pressure, she said, that led her to become more passionate about the art.
“When I was younger, I just always needed poetry. I didn’t even always need to write it – sometimes I just needed to live it. I found the poetry in things. It was the only thing that understood me,” she said. “I didn’t choose poetry. It’s what I needed. I needed poetry to live.”
Her passion for poetry was further nurtured upon joining Urban Word NYC, a literary arts education program that helped give her the platforms she needed to get her work out there.
But even with all her success, Ramana said she was surprised to learn that she was selected as the 2014 Youth Poet Laureate and was asked to participate in such an important event in the City’s history – especially since she finds poetry to be a dying art form.
“I was shocked because poetry is not necessarily a commercial art where it’s appreciated a lot in the mainstream media, so it was shocking to me that they wanted a poet,” she said. “I was really happy [and] I was really excited because I didn’t think poetry could get so far in the mainstream media – it’s often neglected.”
At the swearing-in ceremony, Ramana read her poem, “New York City,” which she dedicated to de Blasio. The poem seeks to shed light on some of the harsh realities that still exist in the City, with a heavy focus on social injustices in communities of color.
“I think what is interesting about art is that it has the ability to build a community and to bring people together. Since it was a new mayor, a new change and a new progression, I really wanted to highlight that,” she said.
“I also wanted to highlight that there are still people that are oppressed within New York City, this country and this world. Me, being a woman of color, I fall under that category, so I wanted to give voice to the people that are often misrepresented or underrepresented.”
Although Ramana said she was really nervous before going up on stage, she realized that the message she wanted to convey to New Yorkers far exceeded her fear.
“I was just afraid I would mess up a word or do something wrong but when I went up there, I realized this is not about my nervousness, this is about the people,” she said. “When I reflected on my own words, I realized that this was about the people and about how I feel and the change in society that needs to happen so when I went up there, I let go.”
“The most memorable moment was looking at the people’s faces and realizing that this is not about me. This is what I want to do,” she added.
“Sometimes, when you get so caught up in the logistics part of art, you forget the truth of it and you get disconnected – so when I went up there and felt connected, I understood that this is my passion.”
Ramana is currently studying government, philosophy and politics at St. John’s. She hopes to pursue a career as a community organizer where she can marry her two passions – community activism and poetry.
“I really want to be a community organizer and full-time artist, so if there is some way I can use my art for social justice, I think that’s where my heart would be at,” she said.
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.