Dear Alberto Ríos,

My name is Carlos and I live in Brownsville, Texas. I’m in eighth grade and I love reading poems as descriptive as yours. I personally like reading mystery novels as well. Also I was looking at all the poets for the Dear Poets Project and your poem “Refugio’s Hair” was, in my opinion, the best one out of all of them. The reason for me thinking so is because it was written so well and you had a way of bringing it to life when you read it like no other.

I’ve made an observation and it is that your grandmother’s name is Refugio which is a Spanish word for refuge. Thanks to my observation of your wonderful work, I can enjoy this poem even more since I can undersand that the reason she was named Refugio in the first place was because she was a refuge for the handsome baby Pirrín after the horse went for the trees to lose their weight. Also your use of visual imagery that was used for Uncle Carlos, “But her uncle Carlos lived there too, Carlos whose soul had the edge of a knife,” helped me see how sadistic he was. These little things left by you give the poem much more meaning.

Your poem, “Refugio’s Hair,” reminded me of how my family always protected me in dire situations and it makes me appreciate them for doing so for the years that I’ve been alive. The passion and diction that is present in the poem makes it more meaningful than any other that I’ve ever seen. I loved your poem for being the masterpiece that it is and helping me realize how much my family has done for me.

I would like to thank you for choosing to share your poem for this year’s Dear Poet Project and for inspiring many young minds like my own around the world. Also I would like to get to know you better by asking some questions. One of them being if you were always into writing poetry, even at a young age. Another question I would like to ask would be: If you’ve ever had any poem that you didn’t publish because you didn’t think it was good enough? If you did have some then how come you didn’t think they were good enough?

Hoping to hear from you soon,

Grade 8
Brownsville, TX

Dear Carlos,

I am so happy to hear from you—and to read your thoughts on my poem. I laughed when you said that you also like to read mystery novels—so do I! I only started reading them about five years ago and I haven’t been able to quit. It’s a new world for me. When I was your age, I loved to read science fiction.

The reason I mention our mutual interest in mystery novels is something the English mystery writer Agatha Christie said: “It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting!” When I read this, I understood it to be an impulse all my favorite writers seem to have, the ability to find something new in something that’s been right in front of you all along. 

For me, that’s how “Refugio’s Hair” started out. It came from what was just a family story. The weird thing is, it wasn’t the family story I had grown up with. You mention my uncle Carlos. When I was growing up, he seemed great. We would visit him in Mexico on the ranch. It would be our summer vacation, so when we got there all the fruit trees on the ranch were just perfect, and he would let my brother and me climb all over them and eat peaches and apricots and everything else. It seemed like the Garden of Eden. But of course, that was just my perspective as a kid. Much later, when I was an adult, we got a phone call that he had died. I went over talked to my aunt Norma and said how sad it was about his dying and how great he was. What?! she said. Great? He was the meanest man who ever lived. Then she proceeded to tell me the whole story, which became this poem.

As a writer, of course, I added some things. I had always wondered about my grandmother’s hair, which she wore short the whole time I knew her. But when she was young, it was super-long. Now I knew why. The whole thing—this new version of uncle Carlos and the ranch—it felt like a shock to hear it, and I hope as a writer I was able to keep some of that feeling I had in the poem. What it also helped me to see is that family is never one thing—it’s complex, and everyone in a family has their own story, which may not be what you think, even if you’re related.

I’m so pleased you paid such close attention to the details and that you thought about what they mean.

Was I always into writing poetry, even at a young age? No, no, no. I didn’t even really know what poetry was. Because of where I was living, what my schooling was like, and what the times were, here’s a big kind of secret: I never read an actual book of poems until I got to college. But, at the same time, I was writing. I didn’t know why—I just did. In the backs of my notebooks and anywhere else I could. I didn’t have a name or an explanation for what I was doing, but I knew it mattered, if only to me. Sometimes that’s all you’ve got to keep moving forward—yourself. But I came from a story-telling family, and even if I was just thinking or remembering, I realize now I was writing.

And have I written something that I didn’t think was good enough to publish? Of course, of course. But then I looked at it again, thought about it again, and rewrote it. And rewrote it again. And again. Of course rewriting is hard work—but that’s all it is, hard work. I’ve tried—and I hope you will try—never to let hard work stop you from anything.

I thank you for writing to me. My best to you, your teacher and classmates, and your own family.



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