New York City’s Next Great PoetShare
Kioni 'Popcorn' Marshall is an up-and-coming poet - and she's only 12-years-old. Despite her age, she has earned the respect and admiration of the NYC poetry community by developing her own unique voice and bravely exploring mature themes like alienation, abandonment, loneliness, and abuse.
From the Harlem Renaissance to the New York School to the ongoing Nuyorican Movement still thriving today, New York City has long been a mecca of poetry and spoken word culture.
Just north of the neighborhood where the modern form of spoken word took root nearly a century ago lives Kioni Marshall, a dynamic rising star on the NYC poetry scene. Marshall, who goes by the stage name ‘Popcorn,’ has performed her poetry dozens of times at various acclaimed venues around the city, earning the respect and admiration of the spoken word community. But unlike her peers in the poetry world, Marshall is only 12-years-old.
“What do you think when you see my smile?” begins Marshall in her poem, “Scraps.” “The nose of the father that left you with a child? Or is it my brown eyes that will never be yours? Is that the reason I’ve been feeding off scraps of love ever since you left?”
Adults often dismiss the creative expression of young poets due to their less developed styles and less mature subject matters – but Marshall stands out. She has developed a unique voice – raw and powerful, yet vulnerable – and the themes she tackles far transcend the typical sympathies of her age.
“Some of the poems are about rape. Some of the poems are about murder. Not being loved. Loneliness,” says Marshall, who draws inspiration from her own experiences but also from observing the grievances in other people’s lives.
“She has the amazing ability to tap into a particular emotion even though she hasn’t herself gone through it,” explains Marshall’s mother. “The fact that she’s willing to take that, and show emotion even though she’s never been through it, is ridiculous,” adds John ‘Chance’ Acevedo, Marshall’s mentor and a beloved personality in NYC poetry scene.
Though the circumstances differ, children often grapple with the same emotions as adults: love, rejection, pain, etc. As they gain new perspectives and react to new challenges, teenagers tend to hit a peak in creative thought. The struggle for many is not in cultivating creativity but in learning how to express it. Having not yet crossed into her teenage years, Marshall seems to have mastered this expression in a way that most adults can only aspire to.
This past fall, Marshall was invited to perform at the famed Nuyorican Poets Café. The venue, which began as a small living room salon in 1973, has become one of the country’s most highly revered forums for creative expression and discourse. The performance was her biggest to date, and Marshall – appearing particularly small beneath the glare of the spotlight – impressed a nearly full house with her brave poetry and stage presence.
Whether Marshall has hit her creativity peak early or will continue to grow and shine on the poetry scene, her words are poignant, powerful, and well beyond her years. “I believe poetry should be free-style, free written,” says Marshall. “The more space a bird has to fly, and the higher it can fly, the higher it will probably fly.”