By Jenna Bagcal
Camryn Bruno was named New York City’s 2019 Youth Poet Laureate in November.
Now, the 19-year-old student from York College in Jamaica hopes to use her new platform to elevate social issues through poetry and spoken word.
Urban Word NYC and NYC Votes sponsored the poetry contest, which Bruno described as a “month-long, vigorous” workshop involving herself and 14 other finalists.
Since 2008, Urban Word NYC has been awarding teens between the ages of 14 to 19 the honor of Youth Poet Laureate. As the 2019 winner, Bruno will get the opportunity to publish a book of poetry with Penmanship books in addition to conducting a reading tour and special appearances for one year.
“We are very proud of Camryn Bruno and the fact that York College is host to New York City’s 2019 Youth Poet Laureate,” Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz said. “Through her words, Camryn encourages us all to think critically about the world and to become civically engaged. As Camryn progresses through CUNY and beyond, we know she will continue to call attention to important issues in our society.”
The winning poem is called “Politics Bite,” which Bruno said was a call for citizens to vote. Her inspiration for the piece stemmed from the outrage and apathy that people felt for the government despite “persistent inequality and corruption.”
She shared a phrase often spoken in Trinidad and Tobago where she was raised, wherein people said that “politicians are dogs.” Playing on this theme, Bruno employed the use of metaphors to compare animals to “the system and politics.”
Originally born in Queens before going to Trinidad and Tobago, Bruno said she loved “seeing protests and people taking action” but didn’t know how to participate in those types of activities.
She was introduced to spoken-word poetry in 2014 as a participant in the 2 Cents Movement, a spoken-word poetry program back in Tobago. Through the program she met Derron Sandy who would later serve as her mentor and encouraged her to develop her skills.
“I used to write all the time, but I didn’t think that what I was writing was spoken-word poetry,” Bruno said.
As she progressed, she said she learned to use her poetry as a tool to convey important messages related to marginalized groups including women, immigrants and minorities as well as issues such as colorism, racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think it’s more about getting the social issues out there, and that’s where I started off, writing about teenage pregnancy and the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Bruno. “It’s really about finding social issues and finding a new way to speak about them.”
During her yearlong appointment as Youth Poet Laureate, Bruno said that she is excited to get the opportunity to “speak for and to youth around New York City.” She added that it’s always “amazing, refreshing and motivating” to see the impact her words have on the youth and hopes to work as teaching artist in the future.
Bruno participated in Bishop High School’s poetry slam each year until she graduated. The decorated author has won the 2015 Zelma A. Cowie Award for Civic Mindedness, the Ms. Tobago Heritage Personality Competition, and several Trinidad and Tobago National Literary Youth Awards.
In 2017, she became the youngest competitor to win Trinidad and Tobago’s First Citizens Bank National Poetry Slam Championship.
To learn more about Bruno, visit her website at camry