All About Books: Sydney Kohl

Sydney Kohl

Sydney Kohl is a student in Lincoln

Listen to Sydney's All About Books:


"Letter to Gary Soto" by Sydney Kohl

“Letters About Literature” Nebraska Winner 2014

Grade 7 through 8.      


     "For one quarter of every year in our grueling middle school curriculum, poetry claimed the center of attention.  During that time, it seemed our sole goal was to churn out as many poems as possible.  Haikus, limericks, cinquains, odes- you name it, and it’s probably permanently drilled into my mind.  The majority of what I wrote consisted of empty, flowery phrases and me trying to see how many big words I could jam into four stanzas.  Writing, something I used to relish, seemed more like a chore- about as fascinating as sweeping dust bunnies out from under the couch.  Then I discovered the anthology, A Fire in My Hands by Gary Soto.

            Upon turning over the first crisp, white page of  the book, I was slightly perplexed.  Yes, the black print was arranged like a poem, but it read like a story with its small, straightforward scenarios.  There was no rhyme to your writing, no distinct label or genre I could attribute to this new, strange style of expression.  The verses spoke of things I perceived as insignificant: oranges, a stray cat, an old box of chocolates belonging to an even older woman.  I remember thinking to myself, this isn’t poetry.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

            Though at first skeptical, I quickly became enthralled with the simple truths you conveyed and the unique point of view these poems provided.  They weren’t meant to sound “pretty,” but rather blunt, honest, and oddly magnificent.  Consequently, the more I read, the more I could see my definition of poetry, and writing in general, begin to change.  I started to jot down what I desired to write about, rather than what I thought others wanted to hear.  It was almost a liberated feeling, a new kind of freedom, to be able to pen my genuine thoughts and opinions, rather than altering them to match the majority.

            At this point, I experienced an epiphany: poetry demands to be felt.  A slow burning in the back of one’s psyche: a smoldering fire that exists not only in your mind, but also in your heart.  Mr. Soto, you rekindled that fire in me.  That love for writing and creating, the belief that with enough passion and drive, even the most simple statement is capable of becoming a beautiful truth.  Ornate words may be aesthetically pleasing, but without that spark of emotion and true sincerity, they’re simply a well-placed combination of characters.

            The work inspired me to be true to myself, and also taught me the importance of each and every small perk in life.  Our time on Earth is short, and might not be perfect, but as long as we take advantage of the opportunities given to us, maybe that’s okay."

 “Letters About Literature” is an annual contest is sponsored nationally by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, coordinated locally by the Nebraska Center for the Book and the Nebraska Library Commission. The competition encourages young people to read, be inspired, and write back to the author (living or dead) who had an impact on their lives. For information about next year’s competition-


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